The aggravation is evident when Acting Lands Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i gets to talking about three lands bills pending in Parliament that have led to what he categorises as an “uninformed,” onslaught on his office.
An understandable disappointment given a cursory Google search spits out headlines such as ‘CS Matiang’i wants land laws amended to cut NLC powers’ or ‘Matiang’i kicks Land Commission out of Ardhi House’ and ‘Land bills row escalates as Matiang’i, Swazuri ‘fight’.’
Muhammad Swazuri being the National Land Commission (NLC) Chairperson and the bills pitting them against each other being the Community Lands Bill, 2015, The Physical Planning Bill, 2015 and the Land Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
In truth the acrimony between the National Lands Commission and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development existed well before the National Assembly was seized of the bills and before Matiang’i took over in an acting capacity from his suspended colleague Charity Ngilu.
A turf dispute that had the Head of State personally mediating a cease fire.
But it didn’t last, as less than three months later the daggers were drawn when the two parties failed to agree on where their respective mandates began and ended as directed by the Supreme Court.
And it was evident on Thursday that the hatchet was far from buried even with Matiang’i’s assumption of office as he accused the NLC, over and over of engaging him in “sideshows.”
The commission now accusing him, as it had Ngilu, of trying to kick them out of Ardhi House, the Ministry of Lands headquarters.
And while Matiang’i admits that he would prefer it if they vacated the building’s fourth floor, he termed it an “unnecessary sideshow.”
“If Swazuri wants he can come and share an office with me,” Matiang’i said from his Teleposta 10th floor office, “but tell me which other independent commission with its own budget resides in a ministry’s headquarters? I don’t understand why they insist on being squeezed in with records.”
The argument that the commission needed to be in close proximity with said records, he said, failed to hold water. “If they write to the PS (Principal Secretary) and request records we are required by law to hand them over. Besides, they are public records. And unless they’d rather trip over the records, the offices I’m told are ready for them to occupy are a stone’s throw away.”
The bigger question on the table however is whether or not the Executive – read Jubilee government – is conspiring to castrate the commission using the aforementioned bills.
An accusation that further agitates the Cabinet Secretary, “as someone directly involved in its drafting, when you hear a former Vice President label the Community Lands bill as poisonous, you wonder whether to laugh or cry. I wish he would show me the exact provision that gives me power over community land.”
The purpose of the bill, Matiang’i said, was to vest power over the land in communities; the Trust Land Act, he argued, having been used for the enrichment of a few in the past.
Legislation particularly critical, he said, as Kenya’s extractive industry prepares for “blast off.”
“It defines in detail what a community is so mining companies can negotiate directly with them. Some communities cross county borders as is the case with most pastoralist communities so county lands boards just don’t make sense in such instances.”
The Land Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 therefore repeals section 18 of the National Land Commission Act which provides for the establishment and composition of county land management boards.
A “streamlining process” which he said began well before the Jubilee government assumed office, when Siaya Senator James Orengo was the Minister for Lands.
And a streamlining process, he admitted, that would now extend into how the lands commissioners are appointed should the Land Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 as currently drafted, be signed into law.
The NLC has vehemently opposed the proposal that the recruitment be undertaken by the Public Service Commission as opposed to by a selection panel, as currently provided for in the First Schedule of the NLC Act, saying it was simply inconceivable for an independent Commission to be appointed by another Commission of equal standing.
But Matiang’i said he didn’t see what the “hullabaloo” was all about. “Why are you concerning yourself with how others will get into office. Now that you’re the holder you should be focused on delivering to Kenyans.”
In Matiangi’s estimation, concurrent with that of his predecessor, the commission has performed well below expectation in the three years since they were sworn in. “The two times I’ve met Swazuri all he wants to talk about is desks and doors instead of safeguarding public school, prisons, police and other public land from grabbers,” he accused.
In the interest of fairness, Swazuri had called for the management of expectations after assuming office, in another exclusive interview with Capital FM News, given all that needs repair in the lands sector.
“Excuses!” was Matiang’i’s response. “They’re always playing to the public gallery; forever the victim. But I’m not the devil.”
No. The devil would be in the details of the three bills that once again have the NLC and Ministry of Lands on opposite sides of the ring.
Thankfully, though hopefully not only in lip service, Matiang’i said he hadn’t yet closed “his doors and windows” to dialogue.