NAIROBI, Kenya Feb 27 – “The mother of all commissions” was sworn in on Wednesday as the country finally got the much-anticipated National Land Commission (NLC) off the ground.
In this institution, the country vests its hopes that the emotive issue of land ownership will finally be addressed after Chief Justice Willy Mutunga led the swearing in of chairman Mohammed Swazuri and nine commissioners on Wednesday.
“You must have a stiff spine and a cool head, guided by the Constitution. The intricate web and reach of interests around land is powerful and smart. The sheer struggle to have you sworn in today is a foretaste of the weight and perils of your assignment,” the Chief Justice said.
“My plea to you is not to allow the National Land Commission to be reduced to a theatre of the absurd,” Mutunga told the commissioners.
The enormity of the task at hand for Swazuri and his team was manifested during the second presidential debate on Monday night when the eight candidates seeking the top job tore into each other over the land issue that remains a sore subject in the country’s fabric since independence.
Leading contenders including CORD’s Raila Odinga and his Jubilee Alliance counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta hammered in their commitment to ensure the National Land Commission executes its mandate.
“You heard from the debate… each one of them saying that the NLC is there; so now that we have arrived we can tell them to remove it from their agenda and if Kenyans have other problems to do with land they should not refer it to the politicians because they have referred it to the NLC,” Swazuri said.
He said no Kenyan should use the land issue to harm another because the commission will use the law to solve all pre-existing land conflicts.
“Traditionally we have used land to cause chaos during this (electioneering) time; we are saying that we are now disarming anybody who has those intentions.
The commission’s functions include managing public land on behalf of the National and County governments, monitoring registration of all rights and interests in land and developing and maintaining an effective land information management at both the national and county levels.
Some of its functions are initiating investigations into the present or historical land injustices and recommend appropriate redress and have oversight responsibilities over land use throughout the country. It will also be mandated to review all grants or dispositions of public land to establish propriety or legality within five years
“The Constitution empowers us to consult other State organs because land problems have a combination of solutions, there is no one solution,” Swazuri added.
The commissioners include Samuel Tororei, Abdulkadir Adan Khalif, Tomiik Konyimbih, Silas Kinoti, Rose Mumbua, Abigael Mbagaya, Muthoni Njogu and Clement Isaiah Lenachuru.
Parliament endorsed the nominees in August 2012, leaving the president to gazette the nine-member commission within seven days. But there were some three court petitions that stood in its way.
One was voluntarily withdrawn on September 18, 2012. The other two were consolidated, heard and dismissed by Justice David Majanja on October 12, 2012 and the Attorney General immediately communicated the fact to the president. Even then, gazettement never came.
The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) joined civil society in faulting President Kibaki for failing to exercise his constitutional mandate to appoint the National Land Commission members.
President Kibaki succumbed to pressure and gazetted the officials of the commission last Wednesday to begin resolving the land muddle.
As the country heads to the watershed General Elections on Monday, the success of the commission will define whether the nation will emerge from the historical injustices pertaining to land.
It is one of the institutions in the new constitutional dispensation that will shape the first term of the incoming Head of State.