When you Google “Lang’ata Primary School”, the first image results are of the dreadful day when police teargassed pupils as they protested the grabbing of their playground. “Lang grabbing is terror against children”, reads one placard the children are carrying.
What is yet to be appreciated is how that courageous act by the children has made a difference. Perhaps teargassing the pupils was a blessing in disguise. It caught the world’s attention and action ensued at a speed rarely seen on matters concerning public utilities.
Chief among them, was the presidential directive to the Ministry of Land and the National Land Commission (NLC) to ensure all public schools have titles for their land. Out of a total of 29,404 public schools, 24,400 do not have title deeds or lease certificates. Some schools do not have any form of land registration while others have their documentation kept by county governments.
This provides a fertile ground for unscrupulous people to grab the properties. Following the presidential directive, over 10, 000 schools applied for titles but three years later, only 1,000 have been processed.
The reasons for the low number are complex but they have equally illuminated critical issues that require urgent but comprehensive measures. There are 19 steps that one is required to follow in order to acquire a land title deed or lease.
These steps are not always clear, plus the relevant offices are scattered across different departments in the Land’s ministry. Some also entail making by payments, both statutory and illegal to hasten the process.
Another reality is that there are only 100 licensed land surveyors in Kenya, with only 60 of them practising. In a country with a population of about 45 million, this makes land surveying an expensive exercise.
Today, NLC has a one stop shop where all public schools can inquire about land and process title deeds. The National Treasury is now the custodian of all title deeds of public land, providing better safety to public land.
Both policy and practical measures that need to be undertaken remain a challenge. At the policy levels, Kenya needs more land surveyors. The bureaucratic processes of approving land transactions need to be hastened as this will also get rid of quacks who torment land buyers.
The stamp duty charged on property — 4 per cent of the value of the property — needs to be considered for public utilities. There is also a need for quicker dispute resolution mechanisms for public utilities. It will never be forgotten how children were bold to take action.
It has been argued in some quarters that they were incited. It could be true. But they also saw their playground being taken away and decided they could not take a back seat. Someday, someone will audit this bold step and how it has transformed society, impacting the education, land and public finance sectors. —The writer is a blogger. Twitter @oleshitemi