The new Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney hosted the Working Group on Titling of Public Schools on 9th March. The CS challenged the team to target titling 10,000 public schools this year up from the 5,000 schools target that the Working Group had set. The call renewed energy within the Working Group to realize the elusive dream of universal titling of all public schools in Kenya.
Yet, the reality is that, none of these titles will be realized until the ogre called corruption in the management of public land in Kenya is slain. Titling of land in Kenya, already is a technical and complicated process, riddled with corrupt practices at every point. The impact of this is that majority of public schools are not in possession of any legal documentation that can show the land belongs to them. This makes it easier for grabbers to dispossess schools.
Since 2015, when a presidential directive to title all public schools was issued, 1,883 schools have received title deeds and 600 more titles are being processed. This number could be much higher if not for the manipulation of public school land records in the favor of grabbers. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission’s audit report released on 13th March on the processes at the Ministry of Lands puts the severity of the rot in perspective.
According to the report, the Ministry of Lands has not done a convincing job on safeguarding the validity of land records leaving them in the hands of interns, volunteers without supervision and other unauthorized persons. The National Lands Commission, on the other hand, has failed in digitizing the records of public school land and making them publicly available.
Grabbing of School Land
At the back of every case of grabbing of school land is the issue of missing or rather hidden documentation and collusion within the corridors of national and county offices managing public land. From an audit of public school land conducted by the Working Group in 2017 in Kwale and Mombasa counties, cases of collusion with powerful council (now county) officials, councilors (now MCAs) and private business interests enjoying the protection of politicians to defraud public schools of land abound.
The Shule Yangu Alliance has between December 2017 and March 2018 received reports of 9 schools at risk of grabbing. At the moment, the database of schools at risk that the Alliance maintains stands at 51 public schools nationally, 22 of these being in Nairobi County. Among initiatives that the Alliance is pursuing to address the situation include the establishment of the Public Land Protection Desk at the Office of Director of Public Prosecution to improve access to legal support for schools at risk across the nation.
It is commendable for the Cabinet Secretary to support the titling process. This has come at the right time as we push to get 10,000 schools titled this year – towards universal titling of the 29,404 public schools in Kenya. The biggest challenge to this dream however is corruption. More needs to be done to include transparency in the management of public land records. Digitizing and making public school land records accessible publicly is an idea whose time is long overdue.