Kenya Cabinet freezes public land deals

All transactions in public property, including transfer of land and buildings, have been frozen ahead of the next General Election.

The freeze will also affect councils, which cannot sell or transact in any dealings involving public land until the proposed National Land Commission has been set up.

The decision was taken during a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Kibaki at State House in Nairobi on Thursday but details were released on Friday.

Though the freeze seems to take into account changes to the management of public land and property introduced by the Constitution, illegal transfers of such assets has historically occurred close to a General Election as politicians try to buy influence.

It means land owners whose leases have expired will now have to wait until a National Land Commission is established to know whether they will have them renewed or they will have to give up their land. 

The decision was announced on Friday afternoon by the Presidential Press Service, which normally transmits resolutions of the Cabinet after its meetings, at State House in Nairobi. 

At the same time, the Cabinet has stopped the sale of public assets by both the central government and local authorities as Kenya prepares for the devolved system of government, which should start after the next General Election.

A Bill to ease Kenya’s transition from the central to the devolved system of government was also approved for publication in the meeting on Thursday, where it was also decided that an inventory of all the assets would be undertaken.

But it is the freezing of the processes related to the renewal of land leases that is likely to have a bigger impact as it would affect all agricultural, commercial and residential leases issued for government land.

According to Mr Ibrahim Mwathane, a director with the Land Development and Governance Institute, the leasehold land is found throughout the country.

The government issues land leases for agricultural and livestock production in parts of Rift Valley, Central, Eastern and Coast provinces.

It means the freeze would affect owners of large parcels of land in places such as Laikipia, where there are large conservancies and ranches on leasehold titles.

Land on lease for commercial and residential purposes is in major urban centres such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nyeri and Embu.

Lands minister James Orengo said it would be difficult to establish how many of these requests for renewal of expired leases are pending. He, however, said about 10 leases expire every month.

Speaking at a meeting in Mombasa for MPs to discuss the pending legislation on land, which ought to be in place by the end of February, Mr Orengo said the National Land Commission would be up and running by the end of March.




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