SAMOEI: Why first term NLC commissioners failed at their job

National Land Commission Vice Chairperson Abigael Mbagaya presents their 2013-2018 exit report to the Parliamentary committee of lands as the commission's term ends today. February 19, 2019. Photo/Jack Owuor
National Land Commission Vice Chairperson Abigael Mbagaya presents their 2013-2018 exit report to the Parliamentary committee of lands as the commission's term ends today. February 19, 2019. Photo/Jack Owuor

One of the key commissions formed by the 2010 Constitution was the National Land Commission as part of reforms in the country. Last week saw the curtain fall on the six-year term of the first lot of commissioners. It is, therefore, prudent to look back and evaluate the Commission’s performance based on expected outcomes bearing in mind how critical and emotive land issues are in Kenya.

Upon its formation, the Commission was sought to be the answer in the bid to professionalise the management of public land through transparent and accountable mechanisms. The collective desire to have the Commission was borne out of the need to address the historical mismanagement of public land in Kenya. Previously, this mandate was vested with the Commissioner of Lands and the outcome was a trail of illegal/irregular allocation of public land to powerful individuals.

The National Land Commission traces its origin from recommendation of Njonjo Land Commission for Inquiry into Land Law systems, which had in 1999 been mandated to develop guidelines and principles of a National Land Policy framework.

In defining the mandate of NLC, Chapter 67 of the Constitution provides that the commission shall manage public land on behalf of the national and county governments, recommend a National Land Policy to the national government and advise the national government on a comprehensive programme for the registration of title in land throughout the country.

NLC is also mandated to research on land and the use of natural resources, and make recommendations to appropriate authorities, initiate investigations into present or historical land injustices, and recommend appropriate redress. Among others, it also encourages the application of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms in land conflicts, assess tax on land and premiums on immovable property in any area designated by law, and monitors and oversights responsibilities over land use planning.

The National Land Commission Act, 2012 added some functions and roles to the commission, which included compulsory land acquisition.

In the management of public land on behalf of the national and county governments, the commission was to renew expired land leases and review of grants and dispositions to public land. NLC was also to finalise the review of grants and dispositions to public land by May 2017. However, reports in the public domain show t they barely scratched the surface.

The National Land Policy of 2009 will expire before the end of this year and is to be reviewed. It is expected that by now, the commission should have developed draft policy recommendations, in consultation with the stakeholders, to ensure a new policy is in place on expiry. I am not aware of much has been achieved towards this end. Similarly, we are yet to see an advisory on the comprehensive registration of title to land. The Constitution envisaged procedures and processes shall be formulated by which matters of ownership, possessions and land rights are recorded. This came from a background that less than 30 per cent of the Kenya’s total area has been registered with approximately four million titles only issued.

Furthermore, we have witnessed piecemeal efforts to address historical land injustices without clear recommendations for redress. These cases are spread across the republic and a comprehensive plan ought to have been developed and implemented within five years of commencement of the Act in 2012. The commission missed this statutory deadline.

There is nothing to write home about with regards the other mandates. It so appears NLC focussed on Compulsory Acquisitions, which in this case is referred to as any other functions assigned by law by the Constitution leaving the core mandates stipulated in the law the backburner.

The conduct of the chairman and the commissioners has been under a lot of scrutiny, especially on lack of integrity, unethical and unprofessionalism in executing its mandate. There have been allegations of corruption, overvaluations to obtain commissions from the landowners receiving compensation and is currently embroiled in a storm regarding compulsory acquisition of land for SGR. This indicates poor internal coordination and implementation in executing its mandate. Kenya Railways has taken the commission to court to compel them to pay compensation as soon as funds are released to settle with the owners. The turf wars pitting the chairman and his deputy are not helpful at all and there are media reports that there wrere factions within the commission that seriously hindered effective service delivery.

The expectation was an independent and professionally run public institution that would inspire confidence in carrying its mandate. Did they meet this high standard? In my honest assessment, it did not.

Their failure to live up to expectation can be attributed to several factors. Key among was the numerous huddles were placed in their way at the onset as they were taking up some of the roles that were traditionally performed by the Ministry of Lands, resulting in fights with the ministry. This poor transition meant they wasted the first two years in needless wars. The two institutions play critical and complementary roles in their respective functions and this was affirmed by the advisory opinion by the Supreme Court sought by the commission.

Funding remained a limitation. With the huge mandate, underfunding by the Treasury meant they were never going to deliver to our expectation considering the scope, extent and complexity of the issues plaguing land management systems in this country.

For the new team to deliver, it is important that the recruitment is done in earnest to ensure there is no leadership gap. In considering applications for the new team, the selection panel to be appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, should pay special attention to professionalism in recruitment. The Institution of Surveyors of Kenya will actively participate in this process and provide reference when called upon by the panel.

There’s need to match our expectations as country on the commission by providing adequate financial resources to enable them have the necessary technical and human resources. Support from the ministry and all players is critical. To start off the new team on a good note, the National Assembly should seriously consider extending the period given to the commission to review grants and disposition to public land.

Chairman,

Institution Surveyors of Kenya