Kilifi cancels double-registered title in Centum coastal land dispute

Centum housing project in Kilifi

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi (right), Centum Group Chief Executive officer James Mworia (centre) and Dr Bitange Ndemo during the official opening of the Sh1.3bn Awali Estate in Vipingo on October 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Laban Walloga | Nation Media Group

The Kilifi County government has cancelled a double-registered title deed that has seen a group of locals lay claim on land owned by the NSE-listed Centum Investment Company.

Letters by Kilifi County government executive committee member for lands and lawyers involved in the dispute indicate that the fight stemmed from two conflicting title deeds for a 1,583-acre parcel.

One title is registered in the name of Vipingo Development PLC, which is a real estate development subsidiary of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE)-traded Centum.

The other title was registered in favour of Wycliffe Tembo, Charo Masha, Sylvia Wanjiku and Daniel Charo, as joint proprietors of the property. Their certificate of title was issued in July last year. Centum in 2015 purchased nearly 11,000 acres of land from another NSE-listed company, Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited; and has been developing a Sh100 billion residential estate and industrial park.

The Kilifi government lands' boss, Maureen Mwangovya, has told the Chief Land Registrar that the title held by the four proprietors is void.

In a letter to the Registrar, Ms Mwangovya says there was already a pre-existing title when the four proprietors were issued with their title for the same portion of land registered in favour of Vipingo Development PLC.

She says in the course of preliminary investigations by the devolved unit into the matter of allocation, it emerged that the four persons had early last year initiated an application for sub-division of the property at Kilifi South Land Control Board.

On November 3, 2020 the board granted the application. However, upon review of the documentation supplied by the applicants, it was established that there already existed a title on the same parcel of land.

"We further noted that the county government recently approved a Change of User for the property in favour of Vipingo Development Company Ltd and also approved various developments by this company which are currently ongoing on the ground," says Ms Mwangovya in the letter.

Master plan

After acquiring the land in 2015, the real estate firm initiated a development Master Plan which required it he to secure change of user from “Agricultural” user to “Mixed Use” to allow for diverse developments to be executed on the land.

Ms Mwangovya also directed the Kilifi South Land Control Board to revoke the consent for sub-division granted to the four claimants and terminate all processes related to the same. Further, she indicated that the county government will not sanction or approve any transaction in relation to the land.

Another letter by lawyer Steve Kithi, who is representing three of the four claimants, indicates that the title deed issued to them was done in error.

The lawyer states that his clients have formally and unconditionally surrendered to the government all their legal and beneficial ownership in the property.

The revelations have emerged pending determination of a case filed in court by Mr Wyclife Tembo and Bambani Community Based Organisation seeking revocation of title held by the real estate development company.

Title deed matter

The Centum-owned Vipingo Development, through Managing Director Kenneth Mbae, says the petitioners are seeking to superimpose a new Title issued in 2020 over a pre-existing one.

"Vipingo Development Plc acquisition of all its land in Kilifi in 2015 was by way of lawful Agreements for Sale entered into with the then registered owner of the land, Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited. As a consequence of these purchase transactions (for valid consideration), duly sanctioned by all the required authorities, the company secured the Titles to its land," says Mr Mbae in his response to the petition.

He says Vipingo Development Plc has already initiated various developments on the land including construction of affordable housing, supporting local educational infrastructure development, construction of a large scale water desalination plant to supply water to local residents and investors.

It has also carried out diverse infrastructure developments to add value to the various sites on the land as an investment destination.

Prominent developments include 440 Apartments, 74 Maisonettes in a residential estate, large scale leisure and shopping Centre, a large scale agricultural activity specifically sisal growing and road infrastructure.

Mr Mbae says the claims by the petitioners that Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited surrendered all its land to the Government of Kenya in 2001 is false.

"If indeed that were the case then Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited, which was a publicly listed company on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, would surely have closed its Sisal growing and processing business and vacated the land," says Mr Mbae.

He adds that Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited has at all material times continued its active use of the land and only transferred ownership of the same in 2015 to the Vipingo Development PLC.

With both transacting entities being publicly listed, this was a transaction that was prominently announced in the media, he tells the courts.

Mr Mbae says his company lodged a formal complaint with the Land Fraud Department at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). The investigation on the circumstances of the 'fake' title deed commenced in August 2020.