Investors in Mara raise alarm over private companies collecting rent

This, as Senator Ledama Ole Kina calls on the county government to table lease agreements, revenue information.

In Summary

•The investors have poked holes in the leases, questioning mainly the payments and beneficiaries of ground fees and bed-nights.

•The county government is said to have positioned middle-men and brief-case companies to collect millions in bed-night fees and other levies, including funds meant to benefit the community.

Narok governor Patrick Ole Ntutu in Maasai traditional wear (seated left) leads the signing of new leases at the Maasai Mara National Reserve/ HANDOUT
Narok governor Patrick Ole Ntutu in Maasai traditional wear (seated left) leads the signing of new leases at the Maasai Mara National Reserve/ HANDOUT

Investors in the Masai Mara National Reserve now want the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to probe private companies to which rent payments are being made, on behalf of the county government.

This is under new directives by the Narok County government. 

This, even as Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina also moves to push the county government to table the consequent lease agreements they entered into with the greater Maasai Mara and the Mara Triangle.

Ole Kina wants the governor Patrick Ole Ntutu led administration to provide a list of all the lodges and camps operating within the greater Maasai Mara, their locations and accommodation capacity.

It has emerged that property owners are paying rent to private companies instead of the county government accounts, pointing to a well-planned scheme to enrich a few individuals.

This is under the current new terms being pushed by the country government, where investors have been forced to sign new 32-year eases.

The investors have poked holes in the leases, questioning mainly the payments and beneficiaries of ground fees and bed-nights.

The county government is said to have positioned middle-men and brief-case companies to collect millions in bed-night fees and other levies, including funds meant to benefit the community.

Under the new leases, only 10 per cent of monies are being paid directly to the county government’s accounts, raising questions over the other beneficiaries.

“There is a big problem that needs to be looked into by the relevant authorities. You cant have the county taking 10 per cent then 90 per cent nobody knows where it goes,” a property owner who sought anonymity, for fear of being victimised, told the Star.

Ground rent varies between Sh2.5 million and Sh5 million depending on the size of the facility, with those with between 10 and 12 camp tents paying about Sh3 million.

According to a sample of the lease seen by the Star, the average rent for the premises is an annual ground fee of Sh3 million, with another $80 per bed night for adult non-resident (international visitors) and $40 for children non-residents.

The hotels or tented camps are paying Sh3,000 into the sub-lessor’s account for every local visitor that spends at their facilities, per night.

Of the total revenues being collected, 10 per cent of the rent is deposited into the county government’s accounts.

The bulk of the monies, 90 per cent of the rent fees is to be deposited to the sub-lesser account, under the new terms, with briefcase companies reported to be collecting the monies.

Of the $80 paid as bed-night fees chargeable per adult non-resident, half of it goes directly to the sub-lessor account while the remaining is deposited to the county government’s account.

Of the monies paid as bed nights for non-resident children, $20 is deposited to the county government’s account with the other half going to the sub-lessor.

On the other hand, only Sh1,500 of the bed-night chargeable per resident is deposited directly to the county government.

“The rent and bed-night fees are subjected to an increment of five per cent (5%) per annum which increment shall not apply for the first 10 years of the signing of this lease,” the leases read in part.

The bed-night fees are payable on or before the 10th day of the following month.

Individuals or firms with properties are also paying land rates and other levies imposed by both the national and county governments.

The lease may be terminated at any time by either party by giving not less than six months calendar months’ notice in writing, specifying the grounds for such termination.

The sub-lesser can also initiate termination if rent or bed-night fees are not paid for six months. The lease will also be terminated if the operating company goes into liquidation or is placed under a receiver manager.

Last week, Sanator Ole Kina also asked the Trade, Industrialisation and Tourism Committee to table all lease agreements between the County Government of Narok and the proprietors of the lodges and camps within the Mara.

He also wants the committee to table title deeds and list all revenue streams and value generated from the lodges and the camps in the reserve, for the past two years.

The committee should also include, bed night fees, royalties and lease ground fees, Ole Kina noted.

Hoteliers have also raised concerns over the new leases and developments at the Masai Mara, which they say key stakeholders are not involved, as the Narok county government bypasses public participation.

According to hoteliers, the majority of the property owners have been reluctant to sign the leases citing unclear payment processes and beneficiaries.

“There are a lot of questions, especially on payments where some groups are being fronted which we suspect are proxies," a source familiar with the process told the Star.

Last year, the county government held three meetings– at Keekorok Lodge (Maasai Mara), Sarova, and Serena (Nairobi), on the lease terms and other charges touching on the reserve, with the hotel and tourism industry players widely being left out, according to the property owners.

The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) confirmed being left out in the process, amid concerns by its members .

“The leases are between the county government and the property owners but we are determined to intervene when it affects our members,” KAHC CEO Mike Macharia had told the Star in an earlier conversation, noting that property owners were forced to sign the leases for fear of losing out.

The Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) is also concerned that spiraling effects coming from the county government’s decisions, including operating terms for properties and park levies, will catch up with its members at a later stage, which will hit businesses and affect tourist numbers to the Mara.

Efforts to reach Narok governor Patrick Ole Ntutu over the past month have proved futile, as our calls and text messages went answered.

Tourism executive Johnson Saruni referred the Star to the County Secretary Mayiani Tuya, who could also not be reached.

“For the lease, the drawer is the AG (Attorney General), but the best person to talk to will be the county secretary,” he told the Star on the telephone.

Meanwhile, tourism stakeholders have warned that Maasai Mara risks losing out to Tanzania’s Serengeti, in the wake of changes in park fee terms.

Apart from paying a premium for accommodation, tourists are also paying park entry fees which have been increased to $ 100 (Sh14,600 ) per non-resident adult per day from January 1, 2024, to June, after which it will go up to $ 200 (Sh29,200) starting July 1. Children will pay $50 (Sh7,300).

The park fees are for 12 hours (6am-6pm), with guests who arrive in the Mara as late as 4pm paying the full amount, despite having barely two hours for Safari.

 Masai Mara National Reserve sits on 1,510 square kilometres of land and is the top visited destination in Kenya.

Neighbouring Tanzania is charging $82 (Sh11,972) inclusive of VAT at the Serengeti National Park.

“We have started receiving cancellations with guests opting for Tanzania,” a reservations manager at one of the facilities told the Star.

Tourism stakeholders in the country have since moved to court to protest the park entry fees and terms.

“We are in court so I wouldn’t want to discuss this, but what is the intention? We don’t think it is is too much,” KATO chief executive Fred Kaigua said.

KAHC said it has sought the audience of the county government to address sector players’ concerns, including the county’s Finance Act, to no success.

The national government has since distanced itself from management of the reserve with Wildlife Principal Secretary Silvia Museiya saying the facility is under the county governments.

Last year, President William Ruto announced plans by the government to remit 50 per cent of the revenue generated from national parks to counties in which the conservancies are situated, even as he moved to announce the handing back of some parks among them Amboseli to the county.

“The county government is fully responsible,” PS Museiya told the Star.

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