Ex-Lands boss Wilson Gachanja goes on trial in sale of Sh30m public land

Former Commissioner of Lands Wilson Gachanja

Former Commissioner of Lands Wilson Gachanja who has been arrested for aiding the illegal acquisition of public land by private developers in Kwale.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The case against former commissioner of lands Wilson Gachanja and two others charged with aiding the illegal sale of public land to private developers in Kwale started in Mombasa on Wednesday.

The court heard that the land is a public access road – Kwale Diani/Beach Block/1072 – valued at Sh30 million.

Testifying before Mombasa Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku, senior Lands official Gordon Ochieng said the parcel was first allocated to Kwale politician Boy Juma Boy on June 23, 1994 after he had applied for it.

Mr Ochieng said though the allotment was approved, the transaction was illegal because the property was a road reserve meant for public use to access the Indian Ocean.

“The allocation to Mr Boy, and the subsequent transfer to M/S Galerius Investment Ltd, was irregular given that this was a road reserve,” the witness said as he was being led in testimony by State Counsel Alex Gituma.

Mr Ochieng said this irregularity was discovered after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) sought clarification on the actions the defunct office of the commissioner of lands took to recover the property.

In the case, Mr Gachanja, Mr Zablon Mabeya and Jabu Salim Mohamed, a former physical planner at the Ministry of Lands, are each charged with abuse of office, wilful neglect of official duty and aiding the commission of a felony.

Mr Mohamed allegedly prepared a false part development plan, an act prosecutors said was prejudicial to the rights of the Kwale County government.

Mr Mabeya and Mr Gachanja are accused of preparing a certificate of lease in favour of Galerius Investments Ltd over the beach access road.

The suspects are also alleged to have aided and abetted Galerius Investments Ltd to irregularly acquire the property between June 23 and August 10, 1994.

The court heard that the complaint about the grabbed land was brought to the attention of the Lands ministry in 1995 when the public protested against being blocked from accessing the beach.

“Mr Gachanja then informed the private developer that the allocation had been cancelled and requested it to surrender the lease documents for cancellation,” he said.

Upon cross examination by the suspects’ lawyers, led by Philip Nyachoti, the witness said a restriction had been placed on the register to forestall any further transaction on the property.

Mr Nyachoti, however, challenged the prosecution’s evidence, noting that his clients were not involved in any illegality.

The court also heard that an attempt by the private developer to excise part of the property to create an access road was rejected followed by a recommendation for the entire plot to be surrendered to the government.

“It is imperative to note that the information and documents provided are those that came after the issuance of the letter of allotment to Mr Boy,” Mr Ochieng said. 

“The general file number 82623/VII, from which the other processes [led] to issuance of the document, have not been found to date.”

The witness said there was an attempt by the private developer to excise part of the government land for public use but that was rejected, leading to the cancellation of the lease documents that were in the firm’s possession.

“Our position is that the allocation of the land was irregular. This was a public utility plot, which was not available for alienation,” he said, adding that an error occurred but it could not be attributed to a single person because the property’s alienation process started with an application for allotment.

Senior Lands surveyor Hebert Ndolo testified that the block had undergone several surveys and subdivisions, leading to the creation of multiple parcels.

“Parcel No. 345 was hived off from No. 190 and nine other smaller parcels numbers 811-819, being on the beach access road, were created out in May1990,” Mr Ndolo said.

He added that the survey on parcel 345 produced a new parcel no 1072, which falls between plots 627,628 and 819.

Mr Ndolo produced several survey maps he told the court were retrieved from the land registry archive upon request by EACC detectives investigating the grabbling of the road reserve.

The hearing continues.