The Standard Gauge Railway project runs the danger of being derailed by a myriad of land disputes between the contractor and the government on one side and land owners on the other. Disputes over compensation for land on which the railway will be built has dogged the project since inception and there seems to be no end in sight.
Matters have not been helped by what is suspected to be interference by politicians with vested interests to secure in the disputed tracks of land. However, it is not just the disagreements over compensation rates that threaten some of the country’s major development projects.
There is also the related problem of overpricing of land which not only drives the cost of projects sky high, but also make land out reach for a majority of Kenyans. As a primary factor of production, land in Kenya has become too dear.
Besides putting a huge strain on taxpayers and donors by blowing up cost of government projects, the prohibitive cost of land is hardly the way to attract investment, both local and foreign. If investors are forced to dig deeper into their pockets to acquire land, it only adds to the already spiralling cost of production which serves to render Kenya a less attractive investment destination.
This militates against Kenya’s ambitious development plans, including tackling runaway unemployment and achieving the country’s development blueprint, the Vision 2030.
One of the drivers of high cost of land is the rampant land speculation carried out in particular by high-heeled, usually politically well-connected individuals who cheaply acquire huge tracks of land in areas earmarked for development of big-budget projects with the intention of offloading the same to the government at highly inflated prices.
Late last year, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance disclosed that it was working with the government on law that would discourage moneyed speculators from profiting unfairly on land meant for big projects and in the process increasing the cost such projects.
One of the components of the proposed law is to establish an upper ceiling on how much the government can pay to compulsorily acquire land for projects. Such a law would not only go a long way in discouraging the speculators, it would also help benefit the original owners of the land who in most cases are shortchanged by the speculators. But more importantly, it would drastically bring down cost of projects and by extension regulate the overall cost of land in the country.