DISPUTED LEASE DEAL

Why Kenya risks losing UK embassy offices

Owning entities have already given Kenya eviction notice at the expiry of the lease in 2021

In Summary

• Details shared with PAC show country is at risk of losing property housing foreign missions in 16 other countries for lack of title deeds 

• Government-owned properties in nine countries do not have original title documents while others are in foreign languages

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.
PROPERTY ROW: Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.
Image: FILE

Kenya is at risk of losing its chancery in London following an ownership row pitting the country against the lessor of the property at 45 Portland Place. 

It is not clear whether Kenya has ownership or tenancy of the building with the latest indications that the 45-year lease expires on October 10, 2021.

The Foreign Affairs ministry had to stop renovations after realising the country does not own the building. 

 

A request for Sh150 million for maintenance works on the property was declined by the Budget and Appropriations committee. 

Details shared with the Public Accounts Committee show that the property is owned by Howard de Walden Estates as well as London Investments and Mortgage Company Ltd.

The entities have already given Kenya an eviction notice at the expiry of the lease.

PAC members, therefore, want the ministry to verify the documentation and establish whether Kenya owns the property. 

“The ministry needs to take urgent measures for alternative space if they fail in securing the building,” the committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said.

The ownership of the High Commissioner’s residence on 78 Winnington Road is also rocked with controversy. 

It is not clear whether Kenya consented to the change of agreement it entered with the proprietor of the block in May 1964.

 

Details shared with PAC also show that the country is at risk of losing property housing foreign missions in 16 other countries for lack of title deeds. 

Auditors pointed out Rome, Bujumbura, Juba, Stockholm, Islamabad, Paris, Kinshasa, Brussels, Riyadh, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Berlin, The Hague, Tokyo and New York. 

The records relating to the missions abroad revealed that the government-owned properties in nine countries do not have original title documents.

Further, properties in seven countries are documented in foreign languages which have never been interpreted while the four others are registered in third parties’ names.

In Rome, the documents are in foreign language whereas a title deed is yet to be issued for the Bujumbura mission.

Juba is reportedly yet to issue title deeds while the documents of the Stockholm and Paris properties are in foreign languages, the same being the case of Berlin, The Hague and Tokyo.

In Kinshasa, correspondences with the OAG indicated that the original title deed was lost and documents are in foreign language. 

Kenya has no original title deed for its Brussels embassy whereas Saudi Arabia does not issue title deeds hence Foreign Affairs is relying on land acquisition agreements. 

The same is the case of Beijing while that of Addis Ababa is in the Amharic language. The ministry has no custody of the Khartoum embassy.

In its response, the ministry allayed fears of losing the property saying translations are available for title deeds in foreign languages and that it is following up on those without documentation.

Even so, PAC has proposed that measures be put in place to stop the further expenditure of billions of shillings in rent and leases for the country’s missions abroad.

The PAC wants the government to consider acquiring–on a freehold basis–premises to house its foreign missions and residence for envoys.

This followed revelations that the country in 2016-17 spent Sh2.4 billion on rent for its embassies.

The lawmakers cited the case of Geneva where the country has spent over Sh2.04 billion in rent since 1985, funds the team said could suffice to purchase a block.

Wandayi’s team argued that given the permanency of Kenya's presence in Geneva, it would be prudent to procure and own a property to reduce the recurrent expenditure.

They further called on the Treasury to allocate adequate funds to ensure those already acquired do not run into a state of disrepair.

It was observed that this could be the case of five Kenyan properties in New York being a chancery, ambassador’s residence and three residential houses.

“The mission receives inadequate funding especially for operations and maintenance,” the PAC report tabled in Parliament reads. 

Edited by R.Wamochie