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Kenyan leaders clash over Mau compensation

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 22 – A fresh row is looming in the Cabinet with Prime Minister Raila Odinga accusing his Deputy Uhuru Kenyatta of political mischief, hours after he and Forestry Minister Noah Wekesa denied knowledge of a Sh2 billion compensation plans for Mau landowners.

In a strongly worded statement, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the plan to compensate all title holders of the Mau was passed by Parliament following an amendment to the Bill adopting the Report of the Government’s Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forest, which was tabled in the House.

The Premier said it was regrettable that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Wekesa were now denying knowledge of the said plans.

He explained that the Task Force Report in its original form had contained no provision for compensation but an amendment introduced by Turkana Central MP Ekwe Ethuro made it mandatory that conservation of the Mau Forest be effected in line with the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act.

“The Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Finance yesterday (Monday) denied knowledge of any plan to pay compensation to large landowners evicted from the Mau Forest. The two ministries stated that the Mau issue was being handled by a secretariat in the Prime Minister’s office; attempting to give the impression that the PM alone would know of such compensation plans,”  a statement sent from Mr Odinga’s office read in part.

“A section of MPs have also apparently expressed dismay at the idea of large landowners being compensated. As most Kenyans are aware, there is a political game being played here,” he went on.

Mr Odinga said that it was unfortunate that the amendments in the Bill, which had been introduced and lobbied for by a section of parliamentarians, were not driven by national interest but by personal motives against him.

“It is therefore shamefully dishonest for certain MPs now to attempt to shift responsibility for this situation to the Prime Minister when they know fully well that it was they themselves who introduced, lobbied for and passed this legislation. At the time they did so, a parliamentary grouping that saw the Mau issue as a platform for political mileage was taking shape,” read the statement in part.

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The PM also alleged that members of the said ‘alliance’ had already attempted to kill off the entire Mau report; “…when that did not work, they single-mindedly voted for blanket compensation for all title-holders, large and small alike, whether the titles were legally or illegally acquired.”

“And with that vote, those MPs committed Kenyans to looking for money for Mau compensation that our country, devastated by drought and food shortages, could not afford,” he said.

The Prime Minister also accused the Finance Ministry of failing to state categorically that the proposed amendment had immense budgetary implications, even as debate over the water tower raged.

He added that there were serious contradictions in the Finance Minister’s claims that he was looking for money to compensate and resettle those who had been removed from the Mau, but that he had no plans to pay large landowners.

“The Ministry now wants to compensate these people, who have no legal claim to land they occupied and yet, despite Parliament’s amendment, it wants to pay nothing to those who do have title deeds. Again, these contradictions emanating from the Finance Ministry amount to nothing more than political chicanery,” he said.

He added that the position taken by the concerned ministries brought out significant questions about the Rule of Law and about the use of public funds for partisan or political gain.

“It raises even more serious questions about the way Parliament is being used as a plaything by a certain section of MPs. Kenyans are tired of being taken for a ride. They are tired of losing out while those in a position to save them play politics for their own personal ends. Our country will never find solutions to its problems while these irresponsible games are allowed to continue,” said the Prime Minister.

The statement also maintained that the Prime Minister’s position was that Kenyans could not and should not pay for land that was irregularly acquired.

“He (Prime Minister) has however always felt that the small landowners, with a maximum of five hectares, who bought it genuinely believing the land was legally on sale, be paid back their money as long as they can prove ownership and that money actually changed hands in the transaction,” the statement read in part.

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