They were men and women on whose shoulders the burden of restoring sanity in the land sector was bestowed.
The eight National Land Commission commissioners and their chairman, it was hoped, would sort out the messy and thorny land questions that have pitted Kenyans against each other for decades.
But six years later, they have little to show for over Sh2 billion spent as salaries and operation costs to keep them in office, and over Sh7.7 billion used to run the secretariat.
“We feel cheated,” Pamoja Trust executive director Steve Akoth said. “We had petitioned Parliament to remove them but they went on recess before our matter could be heard. But now they are leaving each to take individual responsibility.
“We are moving to court next week. We estimate that over Sh15 billion has been lost in irregular land dealings by NLC commissioners.”
The team is yet to secure an appointment with the President to officially hand over their exit report. This is a result of both chairman Muhammad Swazuri and vice chair Abigael Mbagaya wanting to hand over the report. In law, it is only the chairman who is supposed to hand it over on behalf of the commission.
As they leave office, the Star looks back at the tenure of each of the commissioners and profiles them based on multiple interviews, commission minutes and testimonies from fellow commissioners.
Ibrahim Mwathane, chairman of the Land Development and Governance Institute, said the team was a disgrace.
“They deviated from their mandate, but some escaped accountability by either hiding behind the chair or the vice chair,” he said.
Odenda Lumumba from Kenya Land Alliance said: “We seek to declare all those commissioners unfit to hold public office.”
SWAZURI THE LONE RANGER
Outgoing chairman Muhammad Swazuri, who is now facing graft charges in connection with SGR compensation, is described by his colleagues at the commission as a workaholic who never missed any meetings.
“He worked under difficult conditions. He was undermined by fellow commissioners. Despite the internal and external factors, he was able to hold the commission until the sunset days, when he was destabilised by the court processes,” an insider told the Star.
“The tearing apart of the commission, led by his vice chair, means he failed to bring commissioners together to speak in one voice on issues. The commission was divided under his watch,” added the insider, saying the chair visited all but Mandera and Samburu counties to address land issues.
Senior and junior secretariat officials described him as a listening man who at times acted as a lone ranger.
In his defence, Swazuri said there are some decisions he was to take alone as he is mandated to. He told off colleagues who said they didn’t meet expectations.
“I couldn’t be sitting in an office from dawn to dusk just idling around,” Swazuri said. “I have no regrets. I am a proud man as we exit. Under the circumstances, I did the best. We worked together as a team until August 2018, when I was arrested.”
He said if there is any issue they didn’t attend to satisfactorily, then the next set of commissioners will, as they have left a solid foundation behind.
MBAGAYA’S ‘NEPOTISM’ DENIAL
NLC Vice Chairperson Abigael Bagaya (C) flanked by Commissioner Rose Musyoka and CEO Tom Chavangi address the press at their offices at ACK Annex Gardens during a past event. /COLLINS KWEYU
Apart from being the vice chair, Abigael Mbagaya was the commission’s reference point for Kilifi, Kakamega, Kirinyaga, Kisumu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kilifi and Nakuru.
However, she never stepped into Elgeyo Marakwet, despite a litany of land adjudication issues spiked by fluorspar mining.
A source said: “She never had an impact in Kakamega, despite the Mumias triangle being a key historical injustice case. She kept off Nakuru because of political volatility. But she was keen on Kilifi and Kisumu because of Kanyakwar and Kilifi Jimba and Chembe Kibabamuche settlement schemes, where she had personal interests.”
Apart from allegations of employing over 15 close relatives and friends at the commission, she faces accusations of usurping secretariat powers, dividing it and leaving it poisoned and in tatters, allegations she denied.
“As we speak the commission is dysfunctional,” an insider familiar with the human resource of the commission said. “We have people holding roles they have no competence nor skills for, but they are there because they are relatives of so and so, or they were used to cut deals.
“If the new commission comes in, it will have to deal with this mess first if they are keen on any deliverables.”
The source said in the last seven months, when Mbagaya was in charge, she promoted and created senior positions, some not on NLC organigram, leaving many directorates being led by an officer in acting position. It has an acting CEO, who is approving payments with no authority to incur expenses.
Mbagaya, in response, said she doesn’t employ at the commission.
“Remember some of the matters in employment are in court. Let us await the decision of the court,” she said.
She said all her actions were backed by commission resolutions.
“I have no personal opinion on commission matters. We will give you the commission position as none of us have our individual positions. Particularly decisions and resolutions … which direct our actions,” she said.
Adding: ”I know you are a gun for hire to malign me, but also a journalist, I would not like to get into an exchange with anyone on anything.”
She instructed us to get our facts rights.
“You seem to have no idea what the mandate of NLC is as of now. The law has changed and moved functions elsewhere. Too much mix-up in your questions,” she said.
KHALIF’S WHITE ELEPHANT PROJECT
Despite gobbling up over Sh700 million, the Abdulkadir Khalif-led National Land Information Management System has not been piloted six years later. NLIMS was to computerise public land records. The function was later transferred in 2016 to the Lands ministry, when the laws were amended following failure by NLC to roll out the programme.
“The equipment was bought, they went on international and local workshops to get necessary skills to digitise the land records. Nothing happened. We are still on the manual system,” an insider said.
In his reference counties of Garissa, Migori, Nyeri, Kajiado, Isiolo Mandera and Kwale, Khalif is accused of serving his own personal interests.
“He visited Garissa, Mandera and Wajir often because his company was given survey work by the respective counties. The same company the commission learnt was behind some land disputes in Isiolo,” a source told the Star.
In the case of Kuranze Triangle in Kwale, he was accused of being unfair to one of the parties in the dispute because of tribal interests, which have made resolution of the dispute impossible.
Asked about the accusations, including that of undermining the chairman and engineering divisions in the commission, Khalif said: “Get your answers from those accusing me of all those falsehoods. I will respond when the lies are published. Get your facts right.”
Adding: “The (Lands) ministry spent billions of Kenyan and foreign money for 30 years. What do they have to show for that? Go ask them. Returning it back to them is just a way of hiding the illegalities they committed over the eyes.”
Khalif said this despite his own confession to Daily Nation two weeks ago that they had not met the public’s expectations, and that they owe the public an apology.
KONYIMBIH’S ‘ZERO’ IMPACT
Commissioner Tomiik Konyimbih and CBK Deputy Governor Sheila M'mbijiwe at the launch of 14th edition of Kenya Economic Update in Nairobi on October 31, 2016. /ENOS TECHE.
Prof Tomiik Konyimbih is described as a commissioner who was withdrawn from commission work, despite being on its payroll.
The commissioner chaired the committee charged with land policy and regulation formulation, which was key to securing NLC and providing guidance in recovering public land.
“He never took any responsibility, even though was in charge of operations,” a source said, adding that he was absent in all his reference counties of Taita Taveta, Kericho, Homa Bay, Siaya and Nandi.
“He had zero impact. Was least travelled internally or externally. Attended meetings with zero contribution,” the source said.
In response, Konyimbih dismissed claims that six years later, he had not steered the commission in formulating land policy and regulations.
“Draft land policy is ready. I was in my counties Kericho, Homa Bay and Nandi not long ago. Don’t listen to inciters,” he said.
“We have started NLC, World Bank and UoN centre of excellence in valuation and resettlement to train Kenyans and Africans on those issues. My in-tray is always cleared before the lunch break.”
MUTHONI’S CAREFUL TREADING
Commissioner Emma Muthoni Njogu. /HEZRON NJOROGE
She is described as a legal mind of the commission, who never used the same acumen to guide her fellow commissioners to navigate through legal hurdles.
She is Emma Muthoni, who chaired the Land Administration Committee, and was the reference commissioner for Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a and Embu.
The source said: “She trod carefully. Had no impact in her reference counties other than Nairobi and Kiambu, where several accusations of land maladministration were levelled against her for disenfranchising squatters and farms. She was colourless in meetings.”
Despite talking to the Star and agreeing we send her all questions on WhatsApp, Emma did not respond to our inquiries.
TOROREI, LENCHARU: MIXED RECORD
Commissioner Clement Lenachuru. /MONICAH MWANGI
Dr Samuel Tororei was the reference commissioner for Uasin Gishu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Vihiga, Busia, Narok and Lamu. He chaired the Audit and Risk Management and Historical Land Injustices committees, whose performance was dismal.
However, he was credited with being widely travelled and knowledgeable on land matters.
“He played a key role in advising the commission in times of crisis,” the source said. “His downside was that he pushed for recruitment of his own close family members, who work here. But all in all, he was a rational man,”
Clement Lenachuru chaired the Communication and Corporate Affairs, Natural Resources and Research committees, and was the commission reference point for the counties of Tana River, Kitui, Turkana, Laikipia and Narok. He spent most of his term pursuing his PhD at Colorado University in the US.
He didn’t respond to questions on why six years later, he didn’t steer the commission to map out Kenya’s natural resources and how they can be exploited, as well on allegations that he was detached from the commission.
Commissioner Samuel Tororei. /FILE
MUSYOKA AND KINOTI: RELATIVELY BETTER
She is regarded as the mother of the commission, Dr Rose Musyoka. She was in charge of the Planning Committee and was the commission reference point for the counties of Bomet, Machakos, Makueni, Murang’a, Samburu and Mombasa.
“She was our mother,” a source said. “When we had an issue, we could run to her. She listened to both sides and never based her judgment on rumours.”
Silas Kinoti was the commissioner in charge of Human Resource committee, and represented the commission in Meru, Bungoma, Marsabit, Turkana and Nyandarua counties.
“He was only felt in Meru and Turkana counties,” an insider said. “Had zero claims of corruption levelled against him, and was sober in his approach to issues.
“He loved his job, was diligent, and attended commission meetings, where he recorded proceedings verbatim. But he was also soft, which explains why commissioners had a free hand in hiring their own relatives.”
But in his defence, Kinoti said he did well. He said he believes in a strong human resource for any delivery of services.
“The staff must feel they are part of the organisation. That way, they’ll work with passion. Passion makes one move an extra mile naturally. Which is the reason I maintained that there must be a clear distinction between policy and management to make an organisation work seamlessly,” Kinoti said.
“I believe in the richness of the heart and moderate earthly living. Therefore, corruption is a foreign and very detested vocabulary in my life.”