Tighten controls so as to curb land title fraud

The revelation that land title records for some 60 multi-million-shilling properties in Nairobi City County are missing has not come as a big surprise. Corruption has always been rampant in the management of land, not only in the capital city but in the country as a whole. Lands registries, which should be custodians of these vital documents, have often been found to be dens of graft.

It is such a lucrative business for those involved that efforts to reform land administration, including digitisation of records, have been stridently resisted with collusion from inside by wayward staff. One of the said 60 properties—a Sh80 million house in Westlands whose details have reportedly vanished from City Hall—is the subject of an eviction investigation.

The properties, indeed, exist and the owners pay the land rates but the vital documents are not in the county lands office. Some of the most monumental land fraud cases have, of course, occurred in Nairobi, where the values of such properties are a huge temptation for the crooks.

While the city county is squarely to blame for this mess, however, the Ministry of Lands is also culpable. After all, the ministry is the custodian of all aspects of land management, both in administrative and policy capacities.

While such titles should be with the county lands office, surely, there must be back-up at the national level in case of mischief such as this one. Property owners whose titles just vanish from the county’s custody should be able to trace them in the national registry. This is the only way the fraudsters can be kept at bay.

Immense time and resources have been spent on streamlining land records in recent years. Former Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney put a lot of effort into the digitisation of records, culminating in the establishment of the ArdhiSasa portal to secure registers and ease transactions. The critical job, so it appears, was not completed and should be taken up.

Lastly, there is a need for sustained monitoring and surveillance and regular audits of the land registries to confirm the physical existence of properties and properly document them. The national and county government lands sections must closely liaise to secure properties from fraudsters.

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