A mega land deal involving a sisal farm and a local bank has raised a storm in Taita-Taveta County.
The controversial Sh 4.8 billion deal has caused outrage in local leaders who claim the Voi sisal land should have reverted to the locals and not a third party after the lease allegedly expired.
In a letter to the senate speaker dated 18 February 2019 directed to the Standing committee on Land, Environment and Natural Resources, Taita-Taveta senator Johnes Mwaruma sought the status of Voi Sisal Estate regarding , among other things; details pertaining to the ownership of the Voi Sisal Estate and the lease of the parcel of land, the acreage of the estate and the current economic activities taking place, the section of the land that is under dispute between Voi Sisal Estate and Mkamenyi residents and the fate of the residents dwelling on the disputed land which they claim to be their ancestral land.
“We are ready to go the streets to demonstrate over our land that was unfairly annexed by the Voi Sisal Estate. This is a historical injustice that should be addressed with immediate effect. Mkamenyi land should not be subdivided and sold as part of the vast sisal farm” said George Mwanjala the chairman of Mkamenyi Cooperative Society.
Mwanjala told Taita-Taveta Express that residents of Mkamenyi were living in abject poverty despite mega projects crossing their land as they had no title deeds.
He pointed out that the Ketraco project and the Standard Gauge Railway had compensated the sisal estate hundreds of millions while Mkamenyi residents got nothing from their ancestral land.
Mwanjala said land speculators had been rushing to acquire plots from the area to get compensation from government mega projects such as SGR.
An audit conducted two years back had revealed that the Voi Sisal estate had been over- compensated for the SGR project.
The audit had revealed that DWA sisal plantation at Kibwezi which was fairly well kept was compensated an average of Sh 1.5 million per hectare while Voi plantations which was poorly maintained was paid Sh 24million per hectare.
The audit indicated that DWA sisal plantation was awarded Sh 50 million for 32.69 hectares while Voi plantations received Sh 360 million for 14.96 hectares.
On the other hand leaders have alleged that the land should revert to the county government after the lease expired. However, the Voi sisal land lease has remained shrouded in controversy.
The enactment of the 2010 constitution set a fresh precedent where all land leases were capped at 99 years from the previous 999 years.
There are unconfirmed reports that after 2010, the Voi sisal land lease was renewed for 99 years backdated to 1993.
A Voi resident Andrew Mwakuni accused Taita leaders of hypocrisy saying they had all along known what was going on behind the Voi sisal land deals and remained mum only to start shouting after the matter became public.
“I will not be surprised to learn that some of these leaders are beneficiaries of this deal. Those making noise could be bitter because they are not part of the deal,” said Mwakuni.
During a hurriedly convened Press conference in Wundanyi town recently , governor Granton Samboja, senator Johnes Mwaruma and MPs Danson Mwashako and Andrew Mwadime accused the bank of colluding with the rich investor to transfer 1,953 hectares of land to a third party without involving the county government.
Section 17(1) of the general land regulations provided that applications for sub-division amalgamation and partitioning of land parcels be submitted to the county government who may then approve or dismiss the application stating reasons for either decision.
Another twist in the land saga has emerged following revelations that the Voi sub-county land control board issued consent for transfer from Voi Plantations Limited to Voi Point Limited on January 29 2019.Another consent for sub-division and change of use issued by the same board on 13 March 2019.
In February 2012 the land was transferred to Voi Plantations Limited and charged to the local bank for Sh 3 billion and an extra 5 million dollars. On 29 December 2017 another charge of 150 million was registered in the same bank over the land. A third and fourth charge were registered by the same bank on the same date valued at Sh 1.1 billion and Sh4.2 billion.
The charges were discharged on 13 February 2019.On that same date the land was transferred to Voi Point Limited for 4 billion shillings from the bank followed by an extra Sh 800 million.