Not many people, including our political leaders, understand the full impact of the terse three sentence statement released by the Presidential Press Service freezing transactions on government land following a Cabinet meeting held on Thursday January 19th.
The dispatch announced that the Cabinet had resolved to freeze all renewals of expired land leases and review all those that may have been irregularly renewed with immediate effect until the national land commission is operationalised.
The statement further noted that this would include the renewal of leases for public, private and trust lands.
On January 23rd, Lands minister James Orengo followed this with a memo interpreting the implications of the decision to land transactions. In the memo, he directed that no new grants or allocations would be made on public land.
He also stopped the renewal of leases on public land along with the setting apart or acquisition of trust land.
The memo also advised that no transactions resulting in the transfer of or charge or mortgage on land belonging to public bodies would be registered. In addition, the memo suspended the process of compulsory acquisition. Very good and noble measures all meant to safeguard our stock of public land and public assets.
Only they pre-supposed the expeditious operationalisation of a national land commission established under the Constitution.
At the time of issue, the Lands ministry and the Cabinet were optimistic that the commission would soon be set up.
They were working on overdrive to ensure that the pertinent Bill was quickly enacted. But as fate would have it, Parliament thereafter extended timelines for the enactment of new land Bills by 60 days, citing the need for further consultations and a good understanding of the contents.
Unfortunately, this affected the National Land Commission Bill whose enactment holds key to lifting the above cabinet freeze.
As things stand, the earliest these Bills can be enacted, assuming there won’t be limiting divergence during debate, is April 26.
Thereafter, the Bill embeds a time-bound mechanism for the nomination of a selection panel, advertisement, processing, vetting and appointment of the chair and members of the commission that require a further eighty four days.
Allow for process hiccups and you are looking at another four months before we have a land commission in place.
And for it to effectively assume office, allow another two months. That’s a total of about six months, taking us to October 2012.
The above land transactions will remain on hold till then.
This is close to one year since the January freeze. To understand how vastly this hurts, please remember that a majority of the land leases in our urban areas and the big agricultural and livestock production farms around the country are derived from government or trust land.
Take a walk and talk to land owners with expired or near expired leases to understand how painful this has been. They can’t seek financing and aren’t sure how to handle sub-leases to their tenants.
Agricultural farmers and livestock breeders are unsure about prospects for lease renewals. This affects financing, inputs hence turnover.
Real estate financing is affected. Delaying the land Bill hurts these land transactions and related financing
Mwathane is an expert on land issues.