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Landowners decry losses in mega projects compensation delay

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Residents of Kapsaret demostrate over compensation for the Cheplaskei-Maili Tisa section of the Eldoret bypass on January 22, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

WhatsApp Image 2020-09-22 at 13.20.40

Summary

  • The residents have expressed fears that the process has taken longer than expected while the amount offered to them by the government is 'too little' arguing that the value of the land has been appreciating.
  • The most affected are property owners along the Sh5 billion Eldoret bypass route and those who surrendered land for construction of Fluorspar Mining Company in Kimwarer, Elgeyo-Marakwet.
  • Acting NLC CEO cites ongoing court cases for the delay in compensation, saying that their hands are tied by orders barring the commission from paying out.

When the government announced mega projects in the North Rift a few years ago, residents were ecstatic. The infrastructure promised to spur greater development in the agriculture rich region. Landowners hoped for quick compensation for their property.

However, such hopes were soon dashed after disputes cropped up locking their payouts. Today, the landowners feel short-changed as they watch the value of surrounding pieces of land appreciate astronomically while theirs’ are locked at the lower valuations made five years ago.

The most affected are property owners along the Sh5 billion Eldoret bypass route and those who surrendered land for construction of Fluorspar Mining Company in Kimwarer, Elgeyo-Marakwet.

The race for compensation riches has allegedly caused the grabbing of 4,000 acres of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) land in Uasin Gishu County, further delaying the payment schedule for the genuine land owners as authorities investigate claims.

At state in the particular dispute is the Sh400 million which the government had set aside the section affected by the bypass.

Residents recently raised the alarm over more than 10 people in the compensation list who they say are not within the bypass corridor, alleging that they processed fake title deeds with the help of unscrupulous lands officials to get the lion’s share of the Sh400 million meant for compensation at Leseru and Maili Tisa, about 20 kilometres from Eldoret town.

In a petition seen by the Business Daily which was addressed to the Senate, the residents say Leseru Tebeson Farmers’ Society obtained the title deed illegally while claiming to be representing the more than 100 squatters, yet the Leseru-Maili Tisa land belongs to the government.

They want the legislators to stop the National Lands Commission (NLC) from compensating individuals on government land and investigate the infiltration of the project by illegal settlers.

“It has come to our attention that the NLC intends to compensate illegal settlers on government land owned by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) at Mail Tisa junction to the tune of Sh300 million in the first phase of compensation due in a few days’ time,” the letter read in part.

“It is our submission that the illegal settlers herein, some of whom had put up temporary structures on the public land have no proprietary interests on the government land that they are in occupation to justify compensation using public funds.”

But the Senate Transport committee has dashed the residents’ hopes after it gave the project a clean bill of health despite the compensation stalemate, saying it was beneficial to the region hence there was no point in halting it.

And now, a section of locals on whose land demolitions have taken place before compensation are demanding payment, with the work on the bypass work having resumed after the majority were paid.

“We have been living on these farms for over 20 years, and the fact that we have not been paid has shocked us,” says King’ori Githaiga, one of the affected.

After submitting their paperwork to the NLC they got feedback that their land documentation is in question.

''We were very happy when this bypass was launched, but we have been badly affected because if you look at the valuations made five years ago and the value of the land today, the waiting has short-changed us,'' notes Ms Emmy Biwott, another of the affected residents.

Some say that they have been told that their land belongs to Sirikwa squatters.

Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Stephen Kihara has held several sittings with the aggrieved claimants, and has volunteered to seek clarifications from NLC and Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA) on the matter.

''When I met with the members and affected families, we discovered these are registered pieces of land. So, we have given a commitment to ensure that we unlock some of those issues,” he said.

The NLC acting chief executive officer Kabale Tache Arero says that the commission has paid more than 80 percent of the 987 affected persons.

“Eldoret bypass compensation is almost concluded, only a few cases remaining,” she adds.

Ms Arero cites ongoing court cases for the delay in compensation, saying that their hands are tied by orders barring the commission from paying out.

Lack of property identification documents, she adds, has also contributed to the delay.

Mr Simon Samoei, chairperson of the Cheplaskei-Leseru land owners association confirms that the affected persons started receiving payments as early as 2019 and only a handful families are remaining.

“After long battle over compensation, finally, we have been paid, if there are people who have not been paid, there are very few,” says Mr Samoei.

At the same time, more than 1,400 beneficiaries of Sh1 billion set aside in 2017 by the government to compensate those displaced by the construction of Fluorspar Mining Company in Elgeyo Marakwet will have to wait until the NLC completes verification.

The government is facing an uphill task in vetting thousands of claims to determine genuine beneficiaries.

Ms Arero says NLC officials will establish the genuine beneficiaries, after the Mining ministry formed a taskforce to look into the matter.

“The Ministry of Mining, NLC came up with a taskforce to handle the issue of past and present compensation. Until then, no payment will take place. Fluorspar payment deliberations will have to await further deliberations among government ministries and agencies,” Ms Arero states.

“We have carried out a review and we are waiting for the report from our officers.”

She adds that some landowners were compensated in the 1970s by the defunct Elgeyo Marakwet county council, but the commission has not yet been furnished with more information on the matter by the county commissioner.

The residents have expressed fears that the process has taken longer than expected while the amount offered to them by the government is 'too little' arguing that the value of the land has been appreciating.

“It is almost a year since the tenure of the previous NLC commissioners came to an end, since then, we are kept in the dark...we want the current commissioners to conclude as soon as possible what their predecessors had initiated. People are tired of empty promises from the government,” Kimwarer Sugutek Community chairman Joseph Kandie says.

“Since we were displaced 50 years ago, the value of land has been appreciating and that is why we feel the Sh1 billion announced by the government is a negligible figure,” he added.

They also demand that thousands of workers affected by the company’s closure be considered for employment should a new investor take over the management of the factory.

The collapse of Kenya Fluorspar Company, which was in operation for over 50 years, has impacted negatively on the socio-economic welfare of the residents.

Local leaders have petitioned the government to hasten the search for a strategic partner and revive the company that formed the economic livelihood of thousands of residents through employment and business opportunities.