Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities CS Prof Judy Wakhungu Wednesday promised to with immediate effect start the review process of the gazettement of community land in Mukutani area in Baringo County into a state forest.
The CS had through Gazette Notice NO. 1470 of 1st March 2016 set aside land approximately 44 kilometers North East of Kabarnet measuring aboutand within boundary area No. 175/437 as a State Forest.
The move however was met with resistance from a section of locals who accused the government of illegally hiving off their ancestral land. Area leaders led by Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi and Baringo South MP Grace Kipchoim distanced themselves from the notice, saying the process leading to the gazettement was done without consultations and following proper procedures.
In a meeting held in Nairobi with Governor Benjamin Cheboi and MPs Grace Kipchoim, Sammy Mwaita and Moses Lessonet of Baringo South, Baringo Central and Eldama Ravine respectively; and Baringo County Women Representative Grace Kiptui, CS Judi Wakhungu acknowledged that the gazettement process may have not been properly informed and as such her ministry was ready to start the process of revoking the gazette notice.
“It is good that you as Baringo leaders have come forward to bring out issues that we may not have been privy to previously. We shall now begin consultations towards reversing the gazette notice in question and carrying out a more inclusive process and abide by the wishes of the communities residing in Mukutani.” Wakhungu Said.
Governor Cheboi had singled out the fact that adequate public participation was not done and due process like involving area leaders, the county assembly, other stakeholders and interested parties was not followed before gazettement.
While pointing out that the earmarked land lies in an area prone to intercommunity conflicts and would therefore be very emotive, Cheboi submitted to the CS that he did not believe the annexing of the land represented the genuine views of the all the communities living in Mukutani and the affected neighboring areas.
“The kind of stakeholder involvement that is purported to have been done is both narrow and inexhaustive. We as the duly elected leaders representing the interests of residents for example, learnt of the occurrence through the gazette notice. How can the county government which is the legal custodian of public land not be involved in the gazettement process?” Posed Cheboi
Area MP Grace Kipchoim said the whole gazettement process was shrouded in mystery and lack of transparency. She wondered how the government could annex land for a state forest in her constituency while there are hundreds of internally displaced persons some of whom were displaced from the land in question.
“We have been in the process of urging persons displaced by violence in the area to go back to their homes. In fact we are busy working with relevant government to facilitate their resettlement. How then can it be that another department of government wants to take the same land and make it a state forest?” Kipchoim wondered.
The legislator informed the CS that the attendance lists that were used as prove of public participation were not genuine as no meetings had been held in her constituency to deliberate the issue of converting public land into a forest.
Eldama Ravine MP Moses Lessonet advised the CS to consider revoking the Gazette notice as opposed to sending the matter to parliament for degazettement saying the former, if it will be doable, would be much faster and would pave way for a much more structured and inclusive process for the stakeholders in the matter sooner.