BY ERIC NG’ENO
Over 1,300,000 files! More than one million, three hundred thousand files. Those are the files that had ‘disappeared’ from the Central Registry at the Ministry of Lands. You have, or know somebody who has endured the heartbreaking rigmarole of the ‘missing files’ racket at the lands offices.
Strangely enough, these files resurface promptly enough if you are willing to part with a fat bribe. Assuming that each file required Sh10,000 to reappear in the system, it is safe to suppose that the criminal syndicate that had taken over the country’s property administration system had raked in over Sh13 billion while paralysing the economy and frustrating innocent wananchi. Messing people up has never been more lucrative. Moreover, the culprits are nice-looking guys in suits, many of whom enjoy Government salaries. Absolutely perverse!
Madame Charity Ngilu, the feisty CS for Lands, Urban Planning and Housing stared down this syndicate and closed the registry for 12 days. That is how this rot was unearthed and stopped. To prevent a relapse into the decay, a secure online file management system has been instituted, making it difficult for files to ‘disappear’ once they are captured digitally. She is not the first minister to head the Lands docket, but she is the first with the grit and energy to confront a fearsome cartel and deal a deadly blow to corruption.
It is useful to evaluate Madame Ngilu against her predecessors. Quite bizarrely, the lands docket has been traditionally populated by arrogant know-it-alls whose failures are accentuated by the bluster and hubris which accompanied their careers. This is not a time to comment on the travails of Amos Kimunya.
But it is time to look at a man who used to fascinate me most intensely in my youth. You see, I am a lawyer, and attended Alliance High School, where I was involved with the Dramatics Society. James Aggrey Bob Orengo, I read in an old copy of the Bushfire, gave a commanding performance in the 1965 School Play, Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. As a KCSE candidate, I witnessed him giving lyrical homage to the fallen doyen of opposition politics at last century’s grandest send-off in Bondo, Siaya County.
When he was a luminary of FORD-Kenya, Orengo was infallible. In the run up to the 1997 budget, he threatened to make Kenya ‘ungovernable’, and the country was electrified. When in 2002, he announced in a TV interview that there is a future for Kenya based on ideas, the SDP platform became intellectually compelling. For impressionable youths, Orengo held a febrile sophomoric romance in the mould of Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara or Patrice Lumumba.
When the Grand Coalition Government appointed Orengo Lands Minister, there was lots of hope that all his professed ideals would be brought to bear in a sector requiring emergency radical surgery. The Law Society of Kenya, which had registered innumerable issues relating to property transactions, was over the moon.
He was not just one of us, he was also a fiery reformer and an incandescent idealist who would redeem his country from the fetters and shackles of corruption and lead it into the promised land of transparent government. It did not happen. Orengo became an insular, arrogant and parochial Nyanza political operative who didn’t seem to care about what he’d stood for before. His ministry slipped deeper into the swamp of veniality and the prospects of even minimal reform retreated by light years.
When Madame Ngilu mounted her presidential campaign in 1997, young Kenyans, especially males, were totally besotted with the ‘Masaa ni ya Mama’ campaign. Prof Nyong’o and Dr Njonjo (sadly departed), Orengo’s intellectual confreres, could not hide their disdain for Ngilu’s limited patience with ideology, and her comparatively modest educational accomplishments. She acquitted herself quite well notwithstanding, and went on to embark on an illustrious parliamentary and ministerial career. As Minister for Health, she heroically struggled to unveil universal health coverage against a tide of snobbish, condescending scepticism. Her detractors included the SDP old boys.
1,300,000 files, means an equal number of lost transactions in respect of rates, surveying fees, legal fees, stamp duty, insurance and other transactions. This translates to nearly Sh100,000,000,000 yanked out of our economic system. In addition, there are more hundreds of billions, if not outright trillions in sales, developments and rents stolen from the country. It is a travesty in the magnitude of total sabotage.
Recently, Senator Orengo has been talking about making the country ‘difficult to govern’. His commander, Raila Odinga has also been beating out the direst of dooms. Saba Saba and so on. Both of these gentlemen are obsessed with making Kenya ungovernable. In 1982, 2007, Mr Odinga demonstrated one way of paralysing the body politic. At the Ministry of Lands, Senator Orengo showed even more insidious methods of making the country ungovernable. The same cabal of political operatives oversaw the overnight naturalisation of terrorists and sundry criminals. At a fee of course, thank you very much.
The myopia is exasperating. These are people who think that when Kenya is ungovernable, the leafy suburbs, somehow, will be insulated. But never mind that; it is enough to know that Odinga, Orengo et al are serious about destabilising the country by whatever means, and they have the experience to boot.
(Ng’eno is the senior Director of Messaging at the Presidency)