The term of the inaugural commissioners of the National Land Commission has come to an end. A few days ago, one of the commissioners was quoted as stating that they had achieved a lot in their six-year term. They were also quoted a blaming the ministry of Lands for their failure to deliver. It is important that an objective assessment be undertaken on the performance of the commission.
The commissioners came into office against huge public expectations. Land remains a key factor not just of production but also affects livelihoods and governance in Kenya. The land question had vexed the country for long and was a critical agenda in the efforts to address the route causes of the 2007-8 post-election violence.
The expectations from the commission were detailed in both the National Land Policy and the Constitution. The Constitution specifically provided the functions that the National Land Commission was expected to perform. In judging its work, the yardstick must be that in the Constitution. Article 67 clearly stipulate what these functions are.
The first key role relates to the management of public land. One of the complaints in the land sector has remained how public land is dealt with. Historically these lands have been converted to private use through dubious processes. Indeed, many politically connected individuals used patronage to be allocated public land. Once allocated, they either sold the land to unsuspecting members of the public or constructed their property on such parcels of land.
The result is the public purpose for which the land existed was compromised. No public land was spared in this spree, be it a school, military, agriculture, police station, airport, national park or forest.
The Ndungu Land Commission in 2005 documented numerous cases of illegal and irregular land allocations. Follow up on the report was then hampered by an unsupportive legal framework. The adoption of the 2010 Constitution was meant to provide legal support for redressing past misuse of public land. This was the main Task that the National Land Commission was to discharge. While it has done some work on recovery of illegally acquired public land, the work has been too few and far between.
The commission will be remembered more for its controversies around compensation in cases of compulsory acquisition of public land as opposed to protection of public land. It has also been in the public limelight for the wrong reasons on maters public land, where as opposed to being the solution they stand accused of abetting grabbing of public land. On this mandate, they have performed miserably.
Being their principal mandate, it follows that having failed to deliver on it, the judgment on the first commissioners cannot be rosy. They should, therefore, retire not complaining that Kenyans are judging them harshly, but rather disappointed that they failed Kenyans.
Land registration is another area. Titling was a problem in 2010 with many Kenyans lacking title deeds for their land. The Government has made great strides in issuance of title deeds. In this process, the voice of the National Land Commission. They may have done some work but none of that is evident to the ordinary citizens. Instead, the commissioners will be remembered for the fights with the Ministry of Land on powers to sign renewal of leases and related issues.
Historical land injustices are spread across the entire country. While the commission held meetings in several parts of the country, there is no single historical land dispute that it can claim to have successfully resolved. Instead there are few initiatives and their most touted example is the development of A Bill which the National Assembly never enacted. Sadly, as the commissioners take their bow from office, their tenure leaves the country grappling more with the relevance of the commission than celebrating any far-reaching reform they have spearheaded.