Letters

Surrender unused public land to more demanding needs

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Unused land in Kimicanga where residents were expropriated. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG

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Summary

  • There’s pressure for land for the establishment of more industries and manufacturing plants, geothermal and wind energy, dam construction and the establishment of forests.
  • But despite this bleak situation, it is not uncommon to find some public institutions leaving lots of their land unused.
  • Chief managers must be held to account to justify the existence of any unused land under their charge.

Public land in Kenya stands at approximately 13 percent of our stock. This is small. Yet it is needed for a wide range of uses. A reasonable proportion of it is reserved for government institutions such as ministries and their departments at national and county levels.

Some are committed to State agencies. Some sections are used by legislative and judicial institutions.

Notably, public land reserved for institutions and agencies in education, agriculture and health is quite vast.

This includes land under universities, research and technical training institutes, secondary and primary schools.

In agriculture, a lot of land is under research institutions dedicated to crop and animal production, disease control and a raft of other specialised uses. Hospitals, health centres and medical training institutes take up lots of land reserved for the health sector.

Competition for the allocation of public land continues to rise. There’s pressure for land for the establishment of more industries and manufacturing plants, geothermal and wind energy, dam construction and the establishment of forests.

Furthermore, with our rate of population increase, pressure will continue to mount for land for more educational and agricultural purposes, defence and policing.

Rationalising and balancing these vital yet competing needs must be a nightmare for the National Land Commission. Unfortunately, we have little, if any, unallocated public land left.

But despite this bleak situation, it is not uncommon to find some public institutions leaving lots of their land unused. Such land lies fallow, in some cases unfenced, and without any clear future plans, tempting neighbours and grabbers.

Little wonder that some of it ends muddled up in avoidable disputes. Regular changes in chief managers and key personnel aggravate the situation since historical memory is gradually lost.

I have been to institutions where no one correctly recollects the positions of the perimeter boundaries. And because the success and promotion of managers to these institutions is ordinarily tied to the successful prosecution of their core mandate, they often leave matters of land use to the lower ranks.

They distance themselves from land management, perhaps content that they would be gone sooner, and leave them to their successors.

Land is an economic asset and a critical factor of production. Public land is no exception. It is, therefore, moot whether unused public land should not be surrendered for re-allocation to other pressing public needs.

Chief managers must be held to account to justify the existence of any unused land under their charge. Some of this is in prime urban and agricultural zones where industrial, residential and agricultural needs beckon. Keeping it unused is non-strategic and untenable.

Policy and legal interventions should provide answers to unlock the potential of any such land.

Meanwhile, chief managers who have capacity challenges should consider hiring the services of the many land management experts from our universities.