We did our best, says Swazuri

PD Team @PeopleDailyKe

The nine-member National Land Commission (NLC) leaves office this morning having completed its six-year term with stinging indictment of the mother ministry.

Saying he was leaving office with his head held high and with no regrets, chairman Muhammad Swazuri warned  his successors to be prepared to battle what he called cartels and fraudsters at the ministry who he accused of sabotaging the commission.   

  “We have done what we could to the best of our ability despite the endless turbulence and leave with our heads up,” Swazuri, who has been charged with five counts of corruption in relation to compensation for SGR land, said in Mombasa yesterday.

The commission’s vice chair Abigael Mbagaya expressed the same sentiments in Nairobi as she received the National Land Integrated System from Cortec team of consultants.

Mbagaya said the commissioners were satisfied with their achievements but expressed concern that many offices at the ministry are dominated by what she termed old-school officials who are against change.

“We have tried to address most of the problems we encountered along the way but we noted that there is resistance to change. We have tried to bring reforms at the ministry, but you can’t change behaviour of some of the officials. The Constitution changed, but we have veterans in that ministry who have been there for years who still live in the past,” Mbagaya said.

Data dispute

For instance, she said, despite having put in place a fully digitised land management infrastructure, officials have refused to release important data to be incorporated into the system as requested by the Commission.

“It has been so tough for us to access some important records, data and information at the ministry. However, some State agencies such as Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service, which are custodians of large tracts of land have given us data but most of it is not in the right format,” added Mbagaya.

Last week, the National Assembly’s committee on Land asked investigative agencies to fast track investigations into corruption allegations against NLC commissioners.

The Rachel Nyamai-led committee expressed concern that some of the commissioners and staff members have been accused of engaging in corrupt deals in acquisition of land to facilitate various development projects like SGR.

MPs said the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) should conclude investigations before a new team takes over.

“We acknowledge that there have been recurrent and worrying corruption allegations involving some of the commissioners and NLC staff regarding the compulsory acquisition of land to facilitate various development projects like the case of SGR. The relevant investigative agencies should fast-track investigations,” said Nyamai.

Historical injustices

The committee also accused NLC of failing to resolve issues related to historical injustices.

In particular, Nyamai raised concerns that despite the commission receiving 388 claims on historical injustices, “it is yet to issue solutions and conclude on any complaints”.

But speaking in Mombasa, Swazuri said he had served Kenya with integrity and had no regrets.

In his last interview with journalists as NLC chair, Swazuri said though his tenure was marked with “endless witch-hunt”, he leaves the office a proud man because of the strides the commission had made in addressing historical land injustices.

He said claims of corruption and abuse of office levelled against him and fellow commissioners were part of a witch-hunt orchestrated by land grabbers who used the media  to soil his name.

“The commission has issued millions of land ownership documents to Kenyans across the country and facilitated implementation of 81 multi-billion government infrastructural projects. I believe nobody will match my achievements and the Commission’s,” he added.

Swazuri said NLC had resolved cases related to 2.62 million acres land.

“The reason why we are being fought is because we have achieved. If we had the resources we would have achieved much more. People are not happy that a commission born the other day has achieved this successes,” said Swazuri.

He singled out Lamu county as one of the counties where many historical land injustices were resolved through issuance of tittle deeds.

Mbagaya told off NLC’s critics and challenged them to look closely at its achievements in six years.

“The NLC spearheaded and delivered on key policy mandates given to it by the Constitution and enabling legislations. The law requires the commission to recommend a National Land Policy to the national government. We delivered on that function,” she said.

User guides

Commissioner Abdulkadir Khalif said NLC was mandated to advise the national government on a comprehensive programme for the registration of titles in land throughout Kenya, a task he said, it has completed.

“We are delivering the document to the Cabinet Secretary for Land tomorrow (today),” he said yesterday.

Khalif said the Commission had successfully developed a framework, process and procedure manual on land use planning for use by both the national and county governments.

“We have also developed a framework on how to harmonise the management of our wetlands and riparian lands and reserves. We have developed user guides in land administration, land information management systems,” he added.

Mbagaya also said that the Commission had received at total of 500 cases of historical land injustices, and heard 215 in that short time.

“And with those limitations and challenges we had to face, we were able to conclude 135 of them. As Commission I believe we have done very well,” she added.

She said that while the commission had done its best, it could not correct a 100-year problem.

She said if given enough time and resources the Commission would have been able to repossess a lot of public land currently in private hands. – Reports by George Kebaso, Mercy Gacheche, Harrison Kivisu and Zuena Halakho

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