Inquiry on Sh1bn mysterious NIS payment aborts as PS skips meeting


Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Land Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri on Monday skipped a parliamentary meeting over Sh1 billion that was mysteriously paid to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) for an electronic land system that President Uhuru Kenyatta launched in April last year.

Dr Muraguri was scheduled to face the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to provide a detailed breakdown of how the Sh1 billion of taxpayer’s cash was spent.

This is after Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu revealed in an audit that the spy agency failed to provide details of its role in the development of the digital land information management system (LIMS) aimed to bring efficiency and transparency to the land sector in the country.

Ms Gathungu said the NIS also failed to confirm that it received Sh1,012,370,000 from the Ministry of Land for the development of the digital registry.

Instead, Dr Muraguri asked PAC for more time to respond to the audit query, causing the grilling session to abort.

“This is to kindly request the date of appearance to be rescheduled to February 15, 2022, to respond adequately, Dr Muraguri wrote in a letter dated January 25, 2022, and addressed to the National Assembly Clerk Michael Sialai. He was to respond to audit queries covering the financial year 2019/20.

PAC chair Opiyo Wandayi said that whereas Dr Muraguri had sought additional time, the committee will not relent in getting to the bottom of the inquiry.

“He has sought more time to prepare but we shall seek to know the truth however long it takes,” Mr Wandayi said.

The new land system, which marks the end of manual land transactions in Nairobi, was earlier said to have been developed by a team of Kenyan techies over three years and is designed to enhance the security of land records, speed up land transactions and curb fraud.

Ms Gathungu said an amount of Sh1,012,370,000 was transferred to the National Intelligence Service during the year under review for development of LIMS. Ms Gathungu said no explanation has been provided for the omission.

“Further, the terms of reference and progress reports in respect to the LIMS project on behalf of the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning were not availed for audit review.”

Ms Gathungu said the Ministry had adopted LIMS and had already digitised 14 land registries at a total cost of Sh700,004,000 up to 2017/18 financial year.

NIS budgetary spending is not open to public scrutiny.

Around two-thirds of Kenya’s land is customarily owned by communities without a formal title, making it easy for corrupt individuals to sell or lease it without the communities’ knowledge.

The government argues that digitising registration documents through LIMS will help prevent such appropriations by sealing loopholes that allow duplicate titles to be created, which are then used to transfer land without the rightful owner’s knowledge.

Dr Muraguri had earlier defended the engagement of NIS as part of the techies, arguing that the spy team’s role was informed by “the security nature of documents involved.”

Ms Gathungu said it was not clear why NIS was engaged to undertake a similar exercise when the ministry had adopted LIMS and had already digitised 14 land registries for Sh700 million up to the 2017/2018 financial year.

Kenya is amid land reforms that include moving decades-old records online, making it possible for people to register and verify titles on the internet.

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