Counties turn into dens of extortion, says Ombudsman
Last week’s move by the Commission on Administrative Justice to return title deeds, which Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu had fraudulently acquired as a pre-condition to approve building plans, exposed the level of extortion targeted on investors in counties.
Waititu confessed to demanding and transferring two Sh100 million property belonging to Cecilia Mbugua in Thika, who had sought building approvals from his administration and registered it to Esther Nyatu, who is his associate.
The commission, according to chairperson Florence Kajuju, is currently probing tens of such cases in various counties where Kenyans seeking building approvals and change-of-user for land have ended up losing the property through corrupt county officials.
“This (Waititu’s) is not an isolated case. We are investigating several such complaints, which have been filed by aggrieved people from different counties. They are at different stages and we will ensure they get justice,” the former Meru Woman Rep told People Daily yesterday.
Kajuju’s revelation on the ongoing cases points out to an extortion web by a section of the top county staff, mostly in the Planning departments.
But even as the commission hears the complaints, Kajuju is alive to the fact that several complaints are yet to be filed, and asked the affected to do so, as the team seeks to unravel the racket where property owners are forced to part with millions in cash or a section of their land.
The racket, according to multiple interviews, is perpetrated, sometimes with the blessing of county chiefs, by frustrating applications for building plans or the change-of-users from agricultural to commercial.
This, according to the affected people, majority of who spoke on anonymity because they did it in a willing-giver willing-taker basis, place them at a vulnerable position where the county officials easily demand money, portion of the land or housing units in an upcoming estate.
The demands have to be met before the approvals are done and where the parties refused to comply, their applications are rejected and sometimes, the county officials orchestrate a plot to snatch the land on grounds that it is a public utility.
“The county will place many hurdles or even reject the application and then they will approach you with some demands.
They might ask for cash whose amount depends on the cost of the project, they might ask for land, a number of units if it is an apartment or gated community estate,” said a source who parted with close to Sh10 million for approval of a multi-million-shilling apartment in a case where a governor initially wanted two units worth Sh30 million.
Jua kali facility
In the Waititu case, Mbugua had successfully applied for approval to develop her property in 2013 only for it to be cancelled later on grounds that the land was public and was earmarked for construction of a Jua Kali facility.
However, she successfully challenged the position at the Millimani Law Courts but in yet another effort to frustrate her, Waititu forwarded her property to the National Land Commission for investigations as soon as the period for appeal was over.
The county later said it had no interest on the land and it therefore remained with the original owner-Mbugua.
However, in December 2017, she received a call from Waititu’s office informing her that the governor wanted to see her in respect to the development approvals, and during their meeting, he promised to approve them on condition that she surrenders two of the properties.
According to her testimony at the Commission, Mbugua said she agreed to surrender the assets in Thika Municipality/blockXI877/878 “under a lot of duress considering the fact that it had taken long to get the approval”.
In two other cases in a county in central Kenya, a former governor negotiated Sh8 million to approve development plans for high-end apartments while a sitting one demanded an acre of a prime land to ink the change of user application and building approvals.
Last week, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko appeared to acknowledge that the same happens in his county when he ordered for a full system audit to expose rogue officials who are said to have turned the Planning department into a den of extortion and bribery.