Clear the air on role of Land Commission
President William Ruto at the weekend made a far-reaching edict in which he directed that the role of land valuation be taken from the National Land Commission (NLC) and be given to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
In his considered view, the fact that the Commission is involved in valuing land and also paying compensation for the same amounts to conflict of interest and creates loopholes for corruption.
Ruto’s directive invites public debate because, if implemented, it will have far-reaching implications on compensation for government acquisition of privately owned land. It would be important to establish how the commission ended up discharging the two roles, the challenges and opportunities that this has presented and whether, on the balance, this has been beneficial to public interest or not.
True, there is need for standardised compensation, as this will make government planning and costing of projects more predictable. However, our laws provide for public participation on such important matters, especially where and when this might involve a change in law, practice or tradition. That is what needs to happen so that the public can understand what the President, and by extension the government, plan to do and what their end game is.
The President also intimated that these two roles created avenues for corruption. This should also raise the question of what information he is privy to, who has received the corruption money and what legal steps are being taken to punish them for the offences which, if proven, amount to economic sabotage. If, indeed, there are commission staff or directors who have profited unfairly from illegally exploiting their offices, it is only fair that they be brought to book. As such, the President should take the next logical step and direct investigative agencies to commence investigations and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to open charges.
In the past, public projects like roads have cost more than they do in other countries, including neighbouring Ethiopia and Tanzania, because Kenya pays way too much as compensation for land. And because there are brokers who take advantage of such public projects by positioning themselves to benefit, the government ends up paying higher prices to the brokers rather than the original landowners.
The President needs to understand the pitfalls that come with managing change. Moving from the current arrangement has as many threats as it has opportunities. He needs to communicate clearly on what this will entail and how it will be beneficial to the public. In the absence of this, it risks being just another edict that will end up being observed in the breach.