Tuesday, November 25, 2008

US Ambassador & Michael Jordan's mother in Sh 1.2B land-grabbing attempt

US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger and Deloris Jordan, the mother of Michael Jordan, want land worth Sh1.2 billion (around US$ 20m) bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council by the colonial government allocated to a private organisation for a hospital project.

While it is not clear what interest the US Embassy has in the project, Mr Ranneberger wrote to President Kibaki on September 18, 2008 requesting that the land measuring 5.96 acres in the State House neighbourhood be allocated to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. The letter was written a month after Dr Sam Thenya of the hospital and Mrs Jordan had paid a courtesy call on President Kibaki at his Harambee House office on August 19 to press for the land. The letter from Mr Ranneberger mentions the strategic location of the land, the benefits that would accrue to Kenyans from the hospital, and the funds Mrs Jordan would contribute to the project.

Mrs Jordan has made numerous trips to Nairobi, including one that began last Sunday, in pursuit of the land and a new 250-bed capacity hospital for victims of gender violence. But unknown to the two Americans and Dr Thenya, the coveted land is in the process of being gazetted as a national monument because of its historic significance and the architecture of the buildings on it. Sources who attended the Harambee House meeting intimated that President Kibaki did not commit himself to allocating the land, known as Lady Northey, to Dr Thenya and Mrs Jordan. The President is reported to have asked Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Mrs Jordan to look for land elsewhere.

Sources said the organisation had been offered land in Embakasi near City Cabanas restaurant as well as another plot opposite the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Eastleigh, Nairobi. Neither offer has been acted on. Dr Thenya claims that a directive was given to the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Muthaura, to allocate them the prime property. Among those present, he claims, were the minister for Health, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, and his counterpart in Internal Security, Prof George Saitoti. “The President directed that we should be given land at this meeting,” Dr Thenya said.

However, his statement has been dismissed by the Permanent Secretary for Lands, Dorothy Angote, who said the land in question is public land which was bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council in perpetuity. “It can’t be allocated as it was a gift to the public with specific instructions on its use,” Ms Angote said. She added that a decision had been taken by an inter-ministerial committee, which included Dr Thenya, in regard to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. “Nairobi Women’s Hospital understands the position taken and options available to them,” the PS said. She ruled out the allocation of Lady Northey to the organisation, noting that “even in the United States, public land cannot be allocated for private use.”

While the Nairobi Women’s Hospital offers medical services to victims of gender violence, especially those sexually molested, it has faced criticism from a section of Kenyans for allegedly turning away deserving patients. The hospital has been accused of seeking publicity for handling high-profile cases but of referring lesser-known victims to Kenyatta National Hospital. The 57-bed capacity hospital in the Hurlingham area is a private maternity and women’s health facility that charges Sh28,000 for a normal delivery and up to Sh65,000 for a Caesarean delivery.

A search mounted by the hospital for the title deed to the land hit a brick wall when City Council officials said it was missing.

At City Hall, the City Medical Officer of Health, Dr Nguku, also ruled out the allocation of the land to Dr Thenya’s organisation. He said the land in question was occupied by a dental clinic and a nursery school run by the City Council. “In fact, the two institutions are about to be gazetted as national monuments,” Dr Nguku said.

Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia, director for museums, sites and monuments at The National Museums of Kenya, said the land had already been gazetted as a monument. “I have already signed a notice to the minister for National Heritage to gazette the land and its buildings as a national monument,” Dr Kibunjia said.

The land is named after the wife of Edward Northey, governor of Kenya between 1919 and 1920 when it was a British protectorate. The city MoH said the council had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to put up a hospital to cater for gender violence victims. The two-year MoU lapsed last month. The MoH denied that the council had ever agreed to have the hospital constructed on the Lady Northey land as claimed by Dr Thenya. But despite the resistance to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital’s request, Dr Thenya went ahead and organised a high-profile ground-breaking ceremony for the hospital last year.

Among those who attended the ceremony, which was led by then Vice-President Moody Awori, were Mrs Jordan and the then Mayor of Nairobi, Mr Dick Wathika. But just days later, City Council employees removed the signs indicating that construction was about to start. A search mounted by the hospital for the title deed to the land hit a brick wall when City Council officials said it was missing. While the Permanent Secretary for Local Government said in February 2008 that the title deed was with the ministry of Health, this claim was dismissed by Dr Hezron Nyangito, who was the PS for the ministry two months later.

Dr Thenya claims that the plan to have the hospital put up a facility on the Lady Northey land was approved by the full council of the NCC in December 2005. “In October 2006, we signed an MoU with the mayor, the town clerk and the then minister for Local Government, Mr Musikari Kombo,” he said.

The land in question was bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council in 1959 by Lady Northey. Her will states that “the land and buildings shall only be used for purposes of a children’s home and orphanage.”

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