Home Articles Cadastre & land administration: Living in a two-speed world

Cadastre & land administration: Living in a two-speed world

Bhanu Rekha
Executive Editor
[email protected]

Clear, legal and secure documentation of land is of great interest to the individual who possesses it as it is to the economic growth of a country. The world economy is moving at two speeds post downturn and with that, land and cadastre systems too seem to be evolving at two different paces. In this lead article, Executive Editor Bhanu Rekha does a status check and presents a comparative analysis of trends in cadastre and land administration systems in less developed and more developed worlds.

The structure of world economy is changing dynamically in important ways, with effects that are difficult to predict. The great financial crisis that hit the West hard had left many countries facing a period of negative growth, budget deficits and high unemployment. However, China, India and the East registered strong economic growth during this period and since then, the world seems to be moving at two different speeds – that of the more developed world (characterised by high debt, low economic growth and low population growth) and that of the less developed world (characterised by low debt, high economic growth and high population growth) (As shown in Figures 1 and 2). Experts predict that probably in the next 10 years, these two worlds, moving at two different speeds, will reach a balancing point where they will contribute equally to the world GDP.


From the standpoint of an individual or citizen, clear, legal and secure documentation of his/her ownership over the piece of land he/she possesses is of utmost significance. According to Hernando de Soto in his bestseller book, Mystery of Capital, this documentation is the basis to access credit and release the capital value of land. This in fact is not only an individual interest but is important for the government as it serves as the fundamental requirement in enabling an equitable system for land and property taxation which essentially leads to the inclusive economic growth of the country.

The experiments and experience of the more developed world (Western world) in building modern cadastre and land administration systems is150-200 years old. The less developed world (emerging Asian and African economies) opened up to the importance of reorganisation of its land assets only in the mid 20th century.

A quick stock-taking and analysis of trends in cadastre and land administration systems in these two regions clearly establishes the linkages of land administration to economic development and substantiates the fact that the world is indeed moving at two different speeds. To put it another way, the two worlds are on the same track but the developed world is ahead while the developing world has to put in some hard work to catch up. This article attempts a comparative analysis of cadastre and land administration trends in more developed and less developed regions of the world.

According to a 2006 estimate by UN Habitat, the population of cities in developing countries will double from 2 billion to 4 billion by 2036. To prevent people from living in slums, developing nations must create the equivalent of a city housing one million people (the size of Prague) every week, between now and 2036. This is a daunting task and the developing world has to reach the level of sophistication of the developed world in a situation where the demands on land are far more complex than in the developed world. "The intersection of technology, fundamental economics, effective policies and the effective deployment of technology are the prerequisites to achieve this goal," opines Pete Large, Vice President, Trimble Navigation Ltd. However, several bottlenecks need to be overcome to build and implement a land administration system. These include archaic property identification systems, inappropriate legal policies in place, lack of technical knowhow and capacities to name a few.

South East Asia: Many countries in South East Asia have recognised the need for the improvement of the cadastral system – or even setting up practically a new one for the overall development. This has often led to the implementation of accelerated, systematic land registration/titling campaigns with financial aid and technical assistance from foreign donors.

The Torrens system of land tenure has played an important role in shaping the modern economies of the region including Malaysia. Malaysia started using ICT for land administration in 1980 when it has introduced computerised land revenue system (SHTB). In 1995, it introduced Computerised Land Registration System (CLRS). It has conducted thorough studies in 2000 to develop a comprehensive and well integrated land administration system and introduced e-Land System (e-Tanah) in 2005 as a pilot project in the State of Penang. Now, the system is being expanded to cover entire Peninsular Malaysia in phases to establish an efficient and adaptable system to achieve service delivery excellence in the country, informs Y.Bhg. Dato' Haron Bin Abdul Kader, Director – E-Tanah Project Team, Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment, Malaysia. According to Dato' Kader, this is translating into an efficient work culture in land administration and improved ratings for Malaysia by the World Bank.

South Asia: Every country presents its own unique scenario with respect to land administration. In the case of Sri Lanka, unprotected land rights system, non-existent land planning system are compounding the travails of the country, which is emerging from decades-old ethnic strife. Poor land administration system is also a cause of low investments flowing into the country, according to RPR Rajapaksha, Land Commissioner General, Ministry of Land & Land Development, Sri Lanka. Despite land being the most popular form of security, its contribution to the credit market is quite low due to the non-availability of organised land information system. However, the country has ambitious plans to prepare cadastres for all land blocks which account for 12 million land parcels under the Land Title Project in 10 years. It also aims to complete the conversion of deed registrations into land title registrations in the next 10 years.

India is setting up land administration systems in its states through its flagship National Land Records Modernisation Programme (NLRMP). PD Meena, Additional Secretary, Department of Land Resources describes the progress achieved and the challenges in implementing the massive programme on Pg 38.

Africa: Many African nations have colonial legacies of land administration systems to deal with. However today, just about every country in Africa is engaged in some form of land reforms and modernisation of its land systems.

Namibia's present system of land surveying, registration and development covers part of the country due to the colonial policy of confirming the majority of the people to former "homelands" (now communal areas) and barring them from owning land and securing tenure. In many municipalities, towns, villages and settlements, there is frustration about the inability to plan, survey and register land rights and the inadvertent difficulty in accessing credit for investment, informs Anna Namhindo, Director of Survey and Mapping, Ministry of Lands, Namibia.

To address the concerns and remove uncertainties around land, Namibia has implemented Namibian Land Policy (NLP) and Communal Land Reform Act (CLRA) and most importantly, granted equal rights to men and women when applying for rights to communal land. With the implementation of CLRA, land is being continuously re-distributed to previously disadvantaged Namibians through resettlement and affirmative action loan schemes, Anna says. At present, 50% of Namibia's population lives in communal areas where they do not have individual land titles. However, their customary land rights are being registered as part of communal land registration in accordance with CLRA but this framework is proving to be too costly and elitist, Anna adds. To address the issues, flexible land tenure has been introduced and passed by the Parliament in November 2011.

While Namibia is still in the process of reorganising its land, other African countries like South Africa, Rwanda (refer Pg 48) and Morocco have success stories to share. The northwest African country of the Kingdom of Morocco has strong economic fundamentals supported by liberal economic policies based on supply and demand. Morocco's system operates with two cadastral instruments – juridical and national cadastres which have strong social and economic impact on the society. The formalisation of land rights has begun early and it allowed participation of individuals and groups in the formal land and labour markets. This has effectively increased the revenue from the titling process which led to the progressive increase in FDI in real estate, divulges Moha EL-AYACHI, General Secretary of National Board of Licensed Surveyors, Morocco.

Eastern Europe: According to a study by UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), more than 50 million people in 15 member states of UNECE live in informal settlements, informs Gulnara Roll, Economic Affairs Officer, Secretariat of the Committee for Housing and Land Management, UNECE. Rapid urbanisation, poverty and lack of access to land and ownership, in addition to limited or no social housing, have led citizens to build their homes illegally under very poor environmental and social conditions. This phenomenon is growing at an exponential rate in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia and calls for urgent political, legal and planning solutions, she exhorts.

Post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEEC) have opened up to the importance of reliable cadastral systems in the past 20 years, as the lack of the same delayed the progress of reforms and influenced political decisions and economic transition.

Today, the land administration and land governance situation in Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia is advanced and progressive. Lithuania has one of the most modern, if not the most modern, web-based multi-purpose cadastre in the world serving the public and private sectors, says Dr Babette Wehrmann in his paper titled, Governance of land tenure in Eastern Europe and CIS. The land governance situation in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovenia is much more diverse. Access to land is better regulated; land reforms are advanced but not yet finished in these countries.

From the above analysis, it can be inferred that a lot of work is in progress in many countries of the less developed world and offers huge market for technology providers. According to Kees de Zeeuw and Peter Laaraker of Kadaster, "It can be concluded that the development of cadastral systems in Asia is moving at an impressive pace, and that our colleagues from Africa need support for their actions in relation to their governments."

Europe is at the forefront of the developed world in building modern, technology-intensive cadastre systems, with a history of more than two centuries. Today, in countries in Western Europe like The Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria and Switzerland cadastre systems not only provide information about the ownership and value of land but may also include information on land use, legal restrictions, regulations concerning land use and the registration of important assets or infrastructure, such as utilities.

An aware population, greater ICT percolation, higher acceptability of geospatial technology and motivated leadership are driving the agendas of national mapping organisations and cadastral agencies in developed nations with the effect that the role of these organisations is broadening in an attempt to create citizen-centric solutions for effective governance. Apart from building and managing the core cadastre infrastructure, NMOs are efficiently integrating with other themes of information to input the national SDIs, thereby contributing to the sustainable development.

South Korea: The existing land administration in South Korea has been established as early as in 1910s, during the Japanese regime adopting the title registration system. The country promulgated the Cadastral Law in 1950. Around 32 million land parcels in Korea have been computerised from 1975-1984 and 759,000 cadastral map sheets digitised between 1999 and 2003. A modern land administration system in Korea, called the Korean Land Information System (KLIS) has been developed to protect the property rights of the public by efficiently managing cadastre and registry books, as well to provide the governments with political statistics to deal with the overheated real estate markets affected by the rapid economic growths since late 1980s.

The evolution of land administration system in South Korea has coincided with the changes in the land policies from time to time, including policies on property taxation, land use planning and management, land subdivision and supply and real estate market controls and management. These changes had a direct bearing on the rapid economic development of the country, according to Prof Jiyeong Lee, University of Seoul.

Canada: The second largest country in the world, Canada has an extremely diverse and complex landmass. As a consequence, land administration in Canada is quite complex and multi-faceted and is shared between federal, provincial, municipal and aboriginal levels of government. The federal government continues to play a vital role in nation building and frontier land administration. Canada's land title and survey systems are in an evolving phase. "We have recently completed a mapping project which started in 1940s. It is also focussing on land reform through First Nations lands administration renewal, integrated parcel creation processes with land use planning and land registration systems," says David Harper, Director- GeoConnections.

Land administration in Canada's Arctic, the economic development of self-governing aboriginals, climate change-disaster response and natural resource exploration, extraction and distribution are a few challenges for effective land administration in Canada, David shares.

Germany: Germany built its cadastre at the beginning of 19th century to streamline its taxation system. Its property cadastre has been set up only a century later as a parcel- based system. These two systems are constantly updated and kept consistent. With changing societal needs, the cadastre has started increasingly being used for other mapping and planning purposes and it started incorporating other related data like land use, soil evaluation and protected sites. This data is being used for several applications and the German cadastre currently meets the requirements of legal relations, the administration and the economy. As 3D forms the basis for urban planning, state surveying and mapping agencies are providing LoD-1 models and it is envisaged that the multipurpose cadastre would provide LoD-2 models in the future to prepare solar cadastres. As Germany aims to provide secure conditions for economic activities, it is actively working on taking its cadastres to next level of functioning and flexibility, informs Peter Creuzer, Director State Survey and Geospatial Basic Information State Agency for Geoinformation and Land Development of Lower Saxony (LGLN), Germany.

(Refer interview with Dorine Burmanje, Chair Executive Board, Kadaster (Pg-24) for details on the Dutch experience)

From the above description of the development and workin- progress of cadastre and land administration systems, it is evident that individual countries are tracing their own trajectories of evolution owing to the legacy systems in place, popular need/demand and political will while simultaneously learning from the success stories. However, it is noted that only 40-50 countries in the world are active in reorganising their land systems.

The above analysis brings out the differences and similarities between the two sets of countries. Two factors appear to be important for the success. Firstly, the chosen approach is key as it determines the outcome. The Rwanda case shows how an approach strongly supported and pushed by national government can result in a successful implementation of a land administration system. However, a 'one size fits all' formula cannot apply in land administration. Applying the same approach to other countries asks for prudence. Secondly, it is important to understand and take into account the nuances of each culture and country. Even within a country this can vary, as is the case in Morocco. Dealing with the cultural situation should be the challenge, than trying to change it.

Also, countries with huge potential to overcome their poverty are often not able to achieve the desired success, due to mismanagement and corruption related to access to land and its resources based on social equity. To gauge these dynamics with clarity, it is important to understand that land administration may include issues like land valuation, land titling, land use planning and the use of land administration systems. "The measure of an effective land administration system is one that is state-of-the art and enables justified land ownership, promotes efficient land use planning and locally accepted land valuation systems. Domain standards are under development for land administration (like LADM and STDM), but those standards have to be flexible and should be adaptable and extensible in local environment," inform Kees de Zeeuw and Peter Laaraker of Kadaster.

Bringing in the industry perspective, Juergen Dold, Hexagon Geosystems says, geospatial information will help to de-complex the issues and helps in de-regulating certain activities to be more efficient. What has been collected over the past few decades can be moved to new technology to meet new demands of the economy in developed nations while geospatial information is required to regulate things in less developed world. So, actually these two kinds of countries are moving at two different speeds.

Geospatial technology can map in great detail, create spatial data with phenomenal accuracy but is cost- and technology-intensive, which is acting as deterrents for developing countries to quickly adopt and utilise it. Indicating this trend, Pete Large of Trimble says "in cadastral applications, the need for high accuracies and real time capabilities are being questioned, particularly in developing countries. It can be argued that the need for rapid coverage of large numbers of parcels takes precedence over obtaining "survey grade" accuracy. "

Another important issue is the awareness and motivation of leadership. Leaders must understand the importance of GIS, not simply talk about geospatially enabled data. Geospatial community must focus on making GIS dynamic through a continuous flow of updated information that is linked to (near) real time actions. This will enable decision makers to make faster and better decisions for improved economy, opines Juergen.

From the country experiences cited above, it is evident that a cadastral divide does exist between the less developed and more developed worlds and that not one answer or solution exists. Unlike other markets, land is not a homogenous product. Each parcel is unique, with a particular set of locational and physical attributes. The players in the land market are diverse and often have conflicting agendas. So, it is important to take a coordinated approach and involve citizens in a big way. Industry can play an evangelising role in creating more awareness, in convincing the leadership and in understanding the needs of the market and tailor-make their solutions. It is essential to strike a balance between the push of technology and pull of customer needs.

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