The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has denied the Auditor-General details of Sh1 billion mystery payments from the Land ministry for an electronic land system that President Uhuru Kenyatta launched in April.
Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu says 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.
The new 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 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.
“However, confirmation from the beneficiary institution as of June 30, 2020, was not attached as an appendix to the financial statements contrary to the Public Sector Accounting Standards Board’s requirement contained in the revised reporting template dated June 30, 2018, that requires duly signed confirmations to be obtained from the beneficiary institutions,” Ms Gathungu said.
“No explanation has been provided for the omission,” she added.
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.
Land Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri has since 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.
“Consequently the propriety of the money transferred and whether the Ministry of Land and Physical Planning obtained value for money in the transfer of Sh1,012,370,000 for the year ending June 30, 2020, could not be confirmed,” Ms Gathungu said in an audit of the Land ministry for the year to June 2020 tabled in Parliament last week.
Last month, Parliament questioned the payment of Sh73 million to the NIS and put Dr Muraguri to task to explain why the spy agency was tapped to develop the LIMS.
The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) demanded to know why the Land ministry, which received Sh73 million from the Ministry of ICT for the development of LIMS, wired the cash to NIS.
The Opiyo Wandayi-led committee was told that the ICT ministry credited the amount to the Land ministry’s deposit account two days before the close of the financial year ending June 2019.
The cash was later paid to the NIS on August 2, 2019, for the digitisation of land registries.
The MPs questioned why the money was not credited directly to NIS accounts by the State Department of ICT.
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.
Garissa Township MP Aden Duale sought to know whether the new electronic land management system is foolproof.
“Yes we can guarantee the security of land documents now but we are checking what paperwork supports the ownership,” Dr Muraguri said assuring property owners whose documents are already listed that “your land is safe.”