Big names in Kenya Prisons Kitale land-grab list

Dr Noah Wekesa

Selection panel head Dr Noah Wekesa.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Former Kwanza MP Noah Wekesa and General (Rtd) Daudi Tonje are among 424 individuals and entities, including state institutions, firms and children’s homes, accused of illegally acquiring and encroaching on 2321.09 acres of Kenya Prisons Service land in Kitale.

The questionable acquisition of the land LR No. Kapkoi/Mabonde Bock 1/EX-Prison- (LR2197/2/2), puts in danger the completeness, ownership and security of the state department’s historical assets, worth over Sh2.47 billion.

Documents presented in Parliament show that the public land was irregularly acquired over 30 years ago, and has been flagged by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu in the audited accounts of the State Department of Correctional Services for 2020/21.

The others who have been listed as beneficiaries of the land include former Kenya Seed Company (KSC) managing director Nathaniel Tum at least 80 acres, former nominated MP Mark Too 70 acres, and former Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Ishmael Chelang’a 10 acres. Mr Tum and Mr Too have died.

Correctional Services Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe, appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly, said the individuals and entities subdivided the land and got titles, but efforts by her department to reclaim it has been hampered by numerous court cases.

A Mr Gordon Kihalangwa is also appearing on the list of those who acquired the public land (27 acres), but Ms Kwekwe was not sure whether it is her colleague—Energy Principal Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa.

At some point, the PS told PAC, a watchdog committee of the House chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, that a circular from the Ministry of Interior had prevented the department from evicting the individuals. This came after Mr Wandayi sought to know what had prevented her department from evicting those who have settled on the land.

“The acquisition of the land was done unprocedurally. We are engaging the National Land Commission so that if it has to be reclaimed, then it must be within the law,” Ms Kwekwe said.

She was accompanied by Kenya Prisons Service Commissioner-General John Warioba.

The documents submitted to Parliament list the particulars of the individuals encroaching on the land and includes their farm names, proprietorship names and acreage. For instance, the document shows that Mr Wekesa has 10 acres, Mr Tonje 50 acres, Julius Mutua Kilaka 32 acres, Little Sisters of Saint Francis Assisi 14 acres, John Serem Chumo 15 acres, Soet Kenya Limited 10 acres, Public Works eight acres, and Christopher Kuto 14 acres.

Sacred cows

The PS revealed to the committee that to the best of her recollection, the land has never been degazetted as prison land or compulsorily acquired by the government for other uses as required by the law. Degazettement of a public land is a process. A notice is first issued through an advertisement in the media for people to apply and make bids. Those who qualify are then notified.

Ms Kwekwe also said the department is in the process of documenting and valuing the land.

Prisons are some of the protected installations in the country—manned round the clock by security officers. How the individuals and entities acquired the land and had their title deeds processed without the support of the government puzzled even MPs.

“The circular from the Interior Ministry warned us that we should not evict anyone from the government land until we get express orders from the ministry,” she said even as Mr Wandayi demanded that the individuals, whom he described as sacred cows, must leave immediately.

“The circular from the Interior ministry cannot override the law. The law cannot allow room even for a minute for these individuals to stay longer on the land,” said Mr Wandayi. “The committee is, therefore, directing you to take all lawful measures to have these illegal occupiers vacate the land immediately. It should not take more than a month to accomplish this mission.”

This came as the committee summoned National Land Commission (NLC) chairman Gerishom Ottachi to “shed light on this matter.” Records maintained by the state department reveal that Legal Notice No.359 of 1943 and Legal Notice No.721 of 1961 established Kitale Main Prison and Kitale Medium Prison on land measuring about 3,000 and 159.01 acres respectively.

However, a field inspection by officers from the Office of the Auditor-General in October 2021 at both prisons established that about 2,321.09 acres of the Kitale Main Prison farmland “had been alienated and allocated to private individuals, among them senior government officials”.

The auditors noted that upon request by the state department, NLC, through a letter dated September 13, 2018, confirmed that Gazette Notice No.359, declared the plot as prison land with effect from April 1, 1943. “The illegal alienation of prison’s land has been a subject of litigation,” the audit report says.

At the time of the audit, the Department of Correctional Services had not provided a detailed schedule of the land in dispute.

Ms Kwekwe told PAC that the ownership of the two parcels of Kitale prison land has been a subject of court litigation between Kitale prison and other parties.

“The encroachment and alienation of the land has led to continued decrease in the size of the land. The Prisons may be incapable of carrying out its correctional functions effectively because of encroachment,” the PS says.

She also told the committee that the Prisons Service has partnered with NLC and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to recover “the grabbed land and the cases are ongoing”.