Uphold freedom, mandate of constitutional agencies

President William Ruto may have good intentions but he cannot usurp the role of the National Land Commission (NLC), a constitutional institution, and direct it on how to carry out its mandate. Unfortunately, his anti-NLC directive is an assault on its independence.

The President says it is not possible for NLC to decide when land compensation should be made, the beneficiaries and the amounts. However, the agency’s powers cannot just be clipped by Executive fiat. A constitutional review, and not roadside declarations, is needed to alter its role or functions. It is, therefore, wrong for the President to unilaterally declare that the Ministry of Lands will henceforth value land for government projects and not the NLC.

He may be frustrated by the performance of this powerful agency. Indeed, the NLC has not done an exemplary job. Instead, it has been embroiled in controversy and court cases. There have also been complaints over unfair compensation of the owners of land acquired for government projects.

Landowners deserve fair compensation but not at the expense of violating constitutional provisions. The changes the Executive desires should go through due process to safeguard the public interest, which, incidentally, is why we have these constitutional commissions and agencies. They are meant to protect the sovereignty of the people by ensuring that all state organs observe democratic values and principles.

NLC oversees land holding and alienation and is expected to remedy current and past historical land injustices. Its main job is to resolve conflicts, assess tax on land and monitor land use planning. It also manages and administers all unregistered trust and community land on behalf of county governments. Besides, it is expected to develop and encourage alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for land disputes.

A takeover of NLC should be denounced and resisted. The President should not run roughshod over this constitutional commission but, if he has a genuine grievance, initiate legal mechanisms to make the desired change. Otherwise, it is possible to make NLC efficient in its operations and mandate without unconstitutionally emasculating it.