What Faridah Karoney could land into at Ardhi House
- Journalists Faridah Karoney was nominated Lands CS and vetted last week.
- She could come in at a time the government has announced a massive land acquisition project of 487,000 acres in six counties along the Lapsset Corridor.
- She said digitisation is key to breaking cartels that manipulate manual land records.
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The welcoming party at Ardhi House is about to receive a journalist to the 12th floor of the Lands ministry after seeing off a golfing accountant, a cool headed university law don, a court room and street legal brawler, an office secretary, and a dental surgeon, in a short span of 15 years.
Faridah Karoney is in for the experience of her life if she is approved to succeed a raft of professional and political high-fliers at Ardhi House, but who have left behind unfinished business despite lofty promises.
Away from the administrative and legal drama often played out in the public between the ministry and the National Land Commission (NLC), the choice of Ms Karoney comes at a time the government has announced a massive land acquisition project of 487,000 acres in six counties along the Lapsset Corridor.
And following the shocking land acquisition for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Ms Karoney, if approved, will be wading into a complex situation, even as the government dithers on land regulations that would have made the process more transparent.
The bulk of land on the corridor is communally owned, with no demarcations, raising questions on how individuals acquired private properties on the route.
She is also likely to find out that Ardhi House is no TV talk show, going by t he fate of her predecessors Mr Amos Kimunya, Prof Kivutha Kibwana, Mr James Orengo, Mrs Charity Ngilu and Prof Jacob Kaimenyi. All assumed office talking big but left without accomplishing much.
During parliamentary vetting this week, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungâwa asked Ms Karoney if she had the courage to take on the entrenched cartels at Ardhi House.
âWe are not going to give up because there are cartels. Our aspiration is to have a country where things are done transparently, legally and within set parameters,â she said.
She added that digitisation is key to breaking the cartels that manipulate manual land records.
But she is unlikely to convert the cartels into supporters, unless she borrows a leaf from President Mwai Kibakiâs first Finance minister David Mwiraria, whose first order of business was to clean up the procurement department and rid Treasury of the âPending Billsâ problem that was used to raid the public purse.
Of the last five ministers to hold fort at Ardhi House, only Mr Kimunya made moves that inspired confidence.
He halted runaway land grabbing, set up the Ndungâu Commission of Inquiry into irregular and illegal land allocations, put in place the first ever National Land Policy formulation process, and pushed land grabbers to return their loot.
The Ndungâu report listed thousands of public land resources, including forests, road reserves and government houses, which had been passed to the elite under the Kanu regime. Most of these resources have never been reclaimed.
During a recent interview, outgoing Land CS Jacob Kaimenyi confirmed that title deeds to land in Karura Forest, Nairobi, issued to individuals were yet to be expunged from the register, even after the NLC gazetted them for revocation in July 2017.
Unlike Mr Kimunya when he moved to repossess Nairobiâs Processional Way, Ms Karoney does not have a st rong backer.
Mr Kimunya was supported by then President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga (Roads and Public Works Minister).
Under Kanu, political and civil service kingpins plundered public land in forests, research stations, Agricultural Development Corporation, National Youth Service, schools, roads and riparian areas.
When the Kenya Bankers Association put up a spirited fight against Mr Kimunyaâs drive to recover roads bypasses whose titles deeds had been mortgaged to the banks, the minister famously told banks to go auction the roads to recover their securities.
Part of Ms Karoneyâs handicap is she does not have a President Kibaki and a Raila Odinga backing her up as Mr Kimunya had.
A senior sector player who requested anonymity said Ms Karoneyâs performance depends on the governmentâs willingness to implement land reforms.
âShe comes at a time criminal elements seem to ha ve overrun Ardhi House. It explains why Ichungâwa loudly wondered if she had what it takes to restore sanity and reassure the public,â said our source, who works closely with the Lands ministry.
She also comes at a time the sector is polarised over a raft of regulations gazetted and submitted to Parliament by Prof Kaimenyi, but which have been faulted by stakeholders as having serious gaps after clauses to audit past irregular and illegal transactions were dropped from the version submitted to Parliament.
This means the holders of the titles still held chunks of the forest as private properties complete with title deeds in their names, and which could be converted into development projects under a âfriendlyâ government.
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