Land grabbers have descended on Uasin Gishu's public assets in what the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) now describes as a grabbers' magnet.
According to the EACC, the grabbers have been lured by the county's growing economic potential and the benefits that come with it.
Though it did not mention it, the attraction for grabbers, especially in the circles of private developers and influential individuals, may stem from the possibility that Eldoret Town, Uasin Gishu's capital, may soon be declared a city, if recommendations made to President William Ruto on the matter are anything to go by.
The push to have the President's hometown named a city gained momentum as soon as he was sworn in, and the process was all but completed after a report was presented to him endorsing the plan. This followed the Senate's approval of the same in September 2023.
According to Governor Jonathan Chelilim Bii, the second governor of Uasin Gishu since devolution, the problem of land grabbing in the county is complex and requires the firm intervention of the EACC.
In the past, the Uasin Gishu governor has condemned the rate at which public utilities in Eldoret have been invaded by grabbers and proposed an urgent survey and documentation of public property in the town as it pushes for city status.
The first-time governor has indicated that the devolved unit risks losing prime utility land worth billions of shillings to grabbers, with some of the public property already developed.
According to the governor, the Racecourse, Langas, Kapseret and other areas around Eldoret town are the most affected, with land earmarked for the county hospital, fire station and part of the county offices among those grabbed. According to the governor, most of the grabbers have documents that do not exist in the land registry.
It was on this premise that the Uasin Gishu governor on Tuesday invited the Anti-Corruption Commission to come and investigate what he described as massive land grabbing in the Rift Valley county.
"Please come to my county where we have a historical problem of land grabbing. It is so complex," he said. "Even my office has been grabbed," he said at the meeting with the EACC on Tuesday.
"The land grabbers and private developers are taking advantage of the past regime's failure to survey and document public assets to steal them," the governor has said in the past, vowing to reclaim all public assets and land currently in the hands of cartels.
He spoke as his counterpart in Kisumu, Governor Anyang' Nyongó, weighed in on the issue, noting that land grabbing was a serious problem in Kenya.
Governor Nyong'o cited the case of Kisumu where land meant for the industrial city was grabbed.
The two governors' speeches were part of engagements between the EACC and counties taking place at the Boma Hotel in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, to sensitise and train county staff on best governance practices.
Mr Charles Rasugu, the EACC North Rift Regional Manager, said the problem of grabbing public land in Uasin Gishu County was serious because it was one of the areas with high potential for economic growth, making it attractive to grabbers.
So far, the EACC regional manager said, the commission has been able to recover land worth Sh27 billion and stop the loss of public resources worth Sh300 billion to corruption.
He urged grabbers to explore the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) approach to negotiate the return of land to the government, which could see them escape the consequences of the law.
Mr Rasugu said the EACC was partnering with counties because it could not fight corruption alone. If we don't do this, all resources at county level will be looted," he said.
Governors Bii, Prof Nyongó and Dr Wilbur Ottichilo (Vihiga) have urged the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to tackle graft at the national government level with the same zeal and vigour it applies to county governments.
They took issue with the anti-graft body, saying there was a common feeling among governors in the 47 counties that the fight against corruption was biased in favour of the national government.
The trio also took issue with opinion pollsters, whom they accused of unfairly profiling counties as the most corrupt using what they described as unscientific survey approaches that lacked evidence.
Governor Bii said there was a perception that counties and governors were the most corrupt, with allegedly little focus on the national government. He said the anti-graft commission was often stigmatised as targeting counties and governors.
According to the Uasin Gishu governor, most corruption takes place at the national level and the EACC should therefore be seen as tackling it with the same vigour as it does counties.
"The most serious networks of corruption are at the national level, it just seems that we are the easier targets," he said at the Boma Hotel in Eldoret, where EACC is engaging four devolved units in a sensitisation and training programme aimed at demystifying its work.
"Please, while you are punishing us down here, look up there. We need to see you starting from the top because this thing is devolved and it starts from the national government," he stressed.
Siaya Governor James Orengo and his deputy skipped the training that brought together county officials and governors from Siaya, Vihiga and Kisumu counties, opting instead to send a county representative.
Governor Ottichilo explained that county governments are "very targeted" and have always been the culprits in the fight against corruption, but the vice cuts across all levels. "We need a system that tackles graft from the national to the county level," he said.
His Kisumu counterpart said that while there was a fair amount of corruption in counties, it was often attributed to 'a few bad eggs'. But he said the picture painted was always that all county officials were corrupt.
He took a swipe at Kenyan opinion pollsters, saying they were unreliable because they didn't ask scientific questions but based on people's feelings and then drew conclusions based on answers that were not backed up by evidence.
The deputy governor of Vihiga, Wilberforce Kitiezo, also took issue with the pollsters' perception of the counties, claiming that it showed a deliberate intention to portray the devolved units as the most corrupt units of government.
"We need impartiality in the way the EACC tackles corruption at the national and county levels of government," he urged.
Governor Nyong'o also took a swipe at the EACC for clearing corrupt individuals to contest or be appointed to public office, saying this had tarnished its credibility in the fight against corruption.
"Years ago, people were elected to Parliament because of their political records and because they fought for the rights of Kenyans. Now anyone can get into Parliament and you wonder how some people got there. It is the EACC that clears these people," he lamented.
"They just hand out money to voters like cattle and they get elected. EACC should tighten controls to ensure that such people are not appointed or elected to public office," he said.
Emphasising work ethics and values at a personal level, the Kisumu governor said behavioural change was key to winning the war against graft.
"The best way to kill corruption is to make Kenyans live within their means and values. We have to fight a values war, otherwise if we rely on opinion polls, we will never get it right," he said.
Commenting on the cleansing of corrupt individuals, Mr Rasugu said the process was criminal and not value-based, with the pursuit of cases without evidence complicating the process.
"If it is not in the system, it is difficult to prosecute, especially without evidence," he said.