Kenya's Most Authoritative Political Newspaper

Citizen Weekly

Monday, 8 September 2014

TEACHERS UNSURE THEY OWN HISTORIC GROUNDS IN HEART OF BUNGOMA TOWN

The controversy involving the alleged grabbing of Bungoma Posta Grounds has now divided the teaching fraternity in the middle.
Posta Grounds which have been hosting various political rallies, religious crusades, public  demonstrations and all sorts of public gatherings have been known to be the best venue where the people of Bungoma can meet and discuss anything publicly.
Besides, Posta Grounds are the only open space in the town which has been seriously and adversely affected by the demon of land grabbing. Caught in the saga is Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi. Governor Kenneth Lusaka is said to watching the unfolding events and does not want to take sides due to political balancing acts.     
But how did it come to this? The story, our investigations can now reveal, is rooted in the same notorious land grabbing frenzy which was rampant in the mid 1990s up to early 2000. Investigations further reveal that although the teachers are adamant about the true ownership of the plot, there is no doubt in the minds of Bungoma residents and history will bear them out that the ground was initially owned by Bungoma Prison hence it was owned by government of Kenya.
It is not clear how the plot found itself in the ownership of teachers through their Ngarisha Sacco, the precursor to the formerly trouble-ridden and financially crippled Bungoma Teachers Sacco. Details are scanty but some say that one former district commissioner falsified records of the piece of land in question to have it documented as free land and thereafter, forged an approval from the then commissioner of lands or some higher, unnamed authority and to finally disposed off the same land to the teachers’ Sacco.
Following the suspicious and contentious sell of the forged land to the teachers’ Sacco officials then being supported by their former Knut branch secretary Fred Sichangi, who incidentally has been spearheading demonstrations to maintain the status quo, started to recruit interested members of the Sacco to buy plots which were to be hived off Posta Grounds.
It is understood that the Sacco members who chose to buy shares were initially allocated plots but  there are no such records and word is going around that Sichangi and a few others who are keen at ensuring the Sacco keeps Posta Grounds are being driven by the urge and greed to own a piece of prime land in the middle of Bungoma town at the expense of the public of Bungoma. This approach has raised eyebrows of teachers and some former Sacco employees who contributed money directly to the Sacco but have no guarantee they are likely to get anything hence the split.
It is said that during the tenure of Majimbo Okumu as mayor of Bungoma, the teachers’ Sacco paid millions of shillings to the defunct Bungoma municipal council in the form of land rates for the same plot and there were questions then raised, sources reveal, as to whether that money ended up in the council and if the land rates were authentic or not.
A former Sacco employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the teachers’ Sacco with the knowledge of some Knut officials siphoned teachers’ funds from the Sacco under the guise of paying for land rates when as a matter of fact, such payments should have been made by members who had ostensibly bought shares to acquire plots from Posta Grounds.
A group of teachers who spoke anonymously and on the sidelines of the demonstrations organised by Sichangi claimed that it cannot be right for anybody to snatch a recreation facility like Posta Grounds by simply throwing out a blanket cover of incitement that a teachers’ plot has been stolen when on the contrary, it is a few people in the teaching fraternity who are out to dupe the teachers and the public.
A resident of Uwanja Ndege who spoke on condition of not being named suggested that regardless of whether the teachers have a title deed or not, the lease as claimed by Knut officials is the only solution for the matter to be investigated and if possible by the National Land Commission to ensure that the crime of land grabbing perpetrated against Bungoma people is brought under control.
 Alphino Waluvi who said he was born and brought up near Uwanja Ndege in Bungoma town, wondered how anybody in his right sense would go against the interest of Bungoma people by grabbing the only facility for their recreation.
“Webuye, Kakamega, Kitale and other towns in the region have breathing space contrary to Bungoma where greedy people want to take everything,” added Waluvi.
Separately, appeals have been made to Lusaka to steer clear of any attempt to procure the controversial plot allegedly to appease and please the teachers with some teachers and Knut officials claiming that to do so, it would be to abet crime given the fact that those who reportedly procured the plot have questions to answer about the million of shillings pumped in this ghost project.
“It is not lost to observers that as the Sacco fortunes dwindle, many members abandoned the Sacco like Metropolitan Teachers Sacco from Kiambu, Kakamega Teachers Sacco and others which continue to thrive and survive as our own continues to titter on the verge of collapse due to theft,” added a disgruntled member.
Trouble has been looming in Bungoma town between the public and a section of Knut members over the controversial acquisition of the historic Bungoma Posta Grounds plot, which with the public vowing to eject Knut officials from office over what they claimed was undue process with intent to grab public land at the heart of Bungoma town.
Dissenting views have been expressed by members of the public after the teachers demonstrated in town against area MP  Wafula Wamunyinyi for having advocated the return of the grounds back to public for a recreational facility that saw Kanduyi constituency teachers boycott having read malice in the entire plan.
Angry residents engaged about 100 teachers in a demo with stones at the heart of the town before police officers fired in the air to disperse them after members of the public moved to the site where a perimeter fence had been erected and pulled down the fence.
Paul Nademu, a teacher in Khasoko, said they had been mislead into joining the demo that left scores of them injured. “We had been called by these officials for a meeting in town only to be told to march in the streets abusing the area MP,” he said.
According to the development plans of the defunct Bungoma Municipal Council dating back to 1990s-2005, the area adjacent to the railway (Posta grounds) was a designated Bus Park and was later reserved for recreation. They have now been questioning how the teachers union connived with the then councillors to sell this as private property. According to the constitution of Kenya, the relevant legislation on how such land can be repossessed has however not yet been drafted by parliament but the act on acquisition of community land which Posta Grounds is controversially possessed is clear that the county government should formaly inform the National Land Commission which will then address the issue.
Angry residents however feel that as is common practice elsewhere, they have a right to enter and evict members of the union. Several facts are yet to be clear on how much the teachers through there Sacco paid and under what circumstances they acquired the land in public interest of Bungoma county  against interests of 16 private plots demarcated to be shared by members that is also a query yet to be answered.
Bungoma county has witnessed a history of grabbing of public land. A case in point is the grabbing of the airstrip and hospital land where Wamunyinyi, joined by the public residents evicted developers to save the grounds where the current medical training institute is situated. Wamunyinyi then MP, paid the price when he was arrested and detained at Mumias police cells in a case that turned out to be fundamental to Bungoma people.
Efforts to get in touch with county government were fruitless although sources confirmed that the governor is equally concerned that the only recreational facility has been grabbed by private developers. The source further said arriving to unanimous petitions from the public to reclaim the land, the county government was considering a number of options.
Bungoma teachers have in the past invested in a number of projects like hotels and burial and benevolent funds, but what is emerging is that a number of these projects benefit a few selected individuals within the teaching fraternity.
The once popular Tourist Hotel has already been leased to private developers with majority of teachers saying the original members have not received dividends. The acquisition of Posta grounds was to benefit a few members to own plots at the heart of the town.
The history of Posta Grounds is long. Former president Mwai Kibaki, the late VP Wamalwa Kijana, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Lusaka, Moses Wetang’ula  have in the past held rallies here.
According to Wamunyinyi, historically, no public land in Bungoma has been reverted to the public without public agitation recalling that he was arrested to reclaim hospital land which is now serving the county and its environs and soon will be elevated to a referral hospital.
He warned all those occupying public land in his constituency to release them before he moves in with the public to reclaim.