A Senate powerful watchdog committee has recommended anti-graft agency to open a probe into the acquisition of a 10-acre parcel of land for Sh102 million by Kericho county government from Unilever Tea (K) Kenya.
The Senate County Public Accounts and Investments Committee (CPAIC) invited the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to investigate the county financial transaction to establish if the county acquired its own land.
Further, the committee wants the commission chaired by Chairperson Rtd. Archbishop Eliud Wabukala to establish whether the taxpayers got the value for money in the purchase of the land.
This is after the Homabay Senator Moses Kajwang-led committee raised concerns in the manner in which the piece of land was acquired and delays by the National Land Commission (NLC) to process and issue a title deed to the county government.
“This seems to be another case of the government buying its own land. The county government of Kericho, through NLC in a compulsory acquisition process, spent Sh102.5 million to buy land which was later on ruled to be its land.” Kajwang said.
The NLC had acquired the parcel on behalf of the county through compulsory acquisition for implementation of a water treatment plant in 2013.
The project was to address the perennial water shortage experienced during dry spells in Kericho Town and its environs.
In his audit report for the year ending June 2018, former Auditor General Edward Ouko noted that in the financial statements under note 17 on the acquisition of assets reflects payment of sh 1,027,198,000 which includes shs 102,256,000 paid to the national Land Commission (NLC) during the year under review.
“The county did not produce for audit, verification, the title deed despite the full payment. In the circumstances, therefore, it was not possible to confirm the existence, ownership and acreage of the land,” read in part.
But appearing before the committee to answer to 2017/2018 audit queries, Kericho governor Paul Chepkwony regretted saying if his administration had prior information that the 10 acres parcel of land belonged to the public, they would have not acquired it.
Governor Chepkwony said the land was acquired through compulsory acquisition and thus it was the responsibility of NLC to register the property with the chief land register to process the title.
However, he was at pains to explain why the county paid a whooping Sh10 million per acre for the purchase of the land from a private entity (Unilever Tea (K) Kenya ) yet the same company has been paying land rent to the national government.
“This company and other multinationals are paying rent to the national government and rates to the county. Can the government collect rent from private land?” Senator Aaron Cheruiyot asked.
He continued, “Could that be the reason why NLC is struggling to release the title? Because they have gone to their records and confirmed that it reads the county government of Kericho and they are wondering how to print another title reading the same owner yet there is a consideration of Sh102 million?”
But in his response, the governor disclosed to the committee a ruling had been rendered by the commission, following a petition by residents of Kericho on the ownership of large tracks of land in the county that declared the parcel a county land.
“We sought the advice of NLC and we were told it is compulsory acquisition and these are the steps. We did it much later when we got the recommendations that the land belongs to the county. I was also taken aback,” he said.
During the grilling, the governor revealed that though he had made the payments he had raised doubt on the value of the property, insisting the county was under duress to pay the amount to the commission after a donor threatened to pull out.
The Kimugu water treatment works in Duka Moja within Kericho municipality was to be financed by the government of Germany through KFW.
“I mean, I don’t understand how I can buy my own land at Sh10 million per acre just because of what we call compulsory acquisition law,” he lamented.
Senators Ledama Ole Kina (Narok), Charles Kibiru (Kirinyaga) and Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu) equated the land acquisition set-up to the Sh3.2 billion Ruaraka land saga where it found out that the government bought its own land.
“We are talking about the public interest. We dealt with this issue during Ruaraka time. What is of course to me is when the governor is saying that this is a matter that we need to be looked into” Senator Ole Ledama noted.
On his part, Senator Kajwang’ reiterated, “We can say that NLC led you to buy your own land at Sh102 million because it was NLC that led that process,”
Nevertheless, Governor Chepkwony was also questioned by the committee over the ethnic composition of the county staff, with the report revealing that out of 1,938 staff, 1,670 representing 86 percent were from one dominant community of the county-Kipsigis.
On the entry-level, out of 357 staff employed during the financial year under review only two were from other ethnic groups representing one percent of the population of staff contrary to section 65 (e) of the County Government Act.
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