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Economy

Hidden files expose rot at Lands ministry

A Lands ministry employee uses an old embossing machine to stamp title deeds and lease certificates. Digitising the registration process is seen as a way out of the mess at the ministry. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE
A Lands ministry employee uses an old embossing machine to stamp title deeds and lease certificates. Digitising the registration process is seen as a way out of the mess at the ministry. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE 

About 12,000 files containing land documents earlier classified as lost have been found tucked in the offices of senior civil servants at the Ministry of Lands, further exposing the rot in the government that has slowed down service delivery and helped rank Kenya among the world’s most corrupt countries.

More than 30,000 “lost” land files are yet to be recovered and the permanent secretary, Lands ministry, Ms Dorothy Angote, said if she is to be sacked because of corruption in the ministry then all the senior officials will follow suit.

“This ministry is in a serious crisis of confidence. If I am going then everyone is going with me. If the PS is going then the last person who brought the file to you is also going,” Ms Angote told senior officers who included the commissioner of lands, Mr. Zablon Mabea and the director of survey, Mr. Ephantus Murage.

The discovery of the files follows investigations started two weeks ago by the PS to unearth corruption in the ministry.

Cases of “lost” files is a common practice at Ardhi House—the headquarters of the ministry — with many land buyers or owners forced to bribe for the files to be released. In some cases, owners have been swindled of their land through illegal alterations in title deeds in the same office.

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Ms Angote says action will be taken against officers found to have hidden the files once investigations are complete.

Even as Ms Angote cleans the rot at the ministry, the Permanent secretary in the Information ministry says digital storage of the files will provide a way out of the chaos that have marred the Lands ministry.

Plans are under way to convert the land files into electronic formats, a move that Dr Bitange Ndemo says will not only help in reducing graft, but also increase land rate revenues from Sh6 billion to Sh20 billion annually.

Corruption is rife at the Lands ministry and company registrar as a result of the manual handling of files and the physical contact between civil servants and the public, he said.

If we digitise the lands registry, there will be no physical contact with customers, instead the ministry will send bills direct to the land owners who spend long hours queuing at the ministry offices.”

Other departments that the Information ministry is targeting in the online system is the Registrar of Societies and the judiciary, a system that will ease accessibility and reduce graft.

Analysts say manual registration of businesses takes time and also increases incidents of corruption as investors eager to jump the queue pay bribes to civil servants to hasten the processes.

Various surveys have branded Kenya as a difficult destination for investments especially because of the rigorous process of registering businesses.

Business licences

A recent World Bank survey —Doing Business in Kenya 2010, Sub national Series, which investigates the regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it, says the acquisition of licences and the ease of registering businesses are considered highly by investors when choosing a site for their investments.

The World Bank survey compares regulations in 11 regions in Kenya with that of 183 other countries and calls for reforms including digitising processes to improve the country’s standing as an investment destination.

The online system will make it convenient for people applying for licenses as they will have a one-stop-shop where they will find all the application forms.

Dr Ndemo says it will also make it easier for entrepreneurs to easily open up new businesses.

The informal sector is the leading employer in Kenya.

According to the Economic Survey 2009, the sector constituted 80 per cent of the total employment in Kenya as it provided 433,000 of the new jobs in 2008.

According to the PS, the government is already looking to increase revenue to Sh80 million up from Sh30 million when it activates the digitised company registry.

But Information ministry has one dilemma in their pursuit to digitise various government offices; Treasury did not set aside in the Budget funds for the programme, but Dr Ndemo says donors such as the World Bank have agreed to allocate funds for the project.

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