‘Geospatial tech will be a critical part of the support provided by...

‘Geospatial tech will be a critical part of the support provided by World Bank’


Land administration reform has been one of the key agendas for World Bank. Keith Clifford Bell, Sustainable Development Department, Social, Environment & Rural Development East Asia Pacific Region, World Bank shares WB’s land reform initiatives in the East Asia region and the role of geospatial technology in the process

Keith Clifford Bell
Keith Clifford Bell
World Bank

Land administration reform has been one of the key agendas for World Bank. Keith Clifford Bell, Sustainable Development Department, Social, Environment & Rural Development East Asia Pacific Region, World Bank shares WB’s land reform initiatives in the East Asia region and the role of geospatial technology in the process

World Bank has been supporting the implementation of land administration and management projects throughout the world. Kindly share the World Bank land initiatives in the East Asia region?
Land is one of the most fundamental sectors, with land issues underpinning multiple other sectors. The World Bank has been directly engaged in supporting the land sector for more than thirty years.

In the East Asia Region, the World Bank, in collaboration with other development partners, have assisted, or are continuing to fund land administration projects in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The Bank’s programme of “lending” projects has had varying degrees of emphasis on social equity and stability, economic and fiscal growth, environmental responsibility and sustainable development. In post-conflict countries, tenure security and access to land are major factor in providing long-term stability, whereas development of land markets are seen as generating durable results. Complementing the Bank’s programme of funded projects, the Bank also undertakes a wide ranging programmes of analytical or policy studies to support policy development and knowledge-building both within countries, across the region and globally. In particular at this time, the critical policy issues being addressed include land governance, land acquisition and compensation, foreign direct investment in land concessions, gender mainstreaming and NSDI.

Are there any region-specific challenges that you face in the East Asia region?
Land administration is a national or sub-national responsibility, rather than regional, hence it is difficult to generalise, or identify, specific regional challenges. However, let me stress land governance, although it is not a unique East Asian challenge and it is not unique to developing countries.

The importance of good land governance to strengthen women’s land rights, facilitate land-related investment, transfer land to better uses, use it as collateral, and allow effective decentralization through collection of property taxes has long been recognized. The challenges posed by recent global developments, especially urbanization, increased and more volatile food prices, and climate change have raised the profile of land and the need for countries to have appropriate land policies. However, efforts to improve country-level land governance are often frustrated by technical complexities, institutional fragmentation, vested interests, and lack of a shared vision on how to move towards good land governance and measure progress in concrete settings. Recent initiatives have recognised the important challenges this raises and the need for partners to act in a collaborative and coordinated fashion to address them. Increased awareness of the successful implementation of innovative approaches to good land governance can help to not only improve land governance itself, but can also contribute to the overall well-being of the poorest and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Although individual amounts may be small, such petty corruption can add up to be large sums; in India the total amount of bribes paid annually by users of land administration services are estimated at USD 700 million, in 2005 by Transparency International, equivalent to three quarters of India’s total public spending on science, technology, and environment.

The effects of weak land governance will be particularly harmful for the poor in developing countries for whom land is a primary means to generate a livelihood, a key vehicle to invest, accumulate wealth, and transfer it between generations, and key part of their identity. All over the world, land and real estate are a main component of household wealth. Because land comprises such a large share of the asset portfolio of the poor, giving secure property rights to land they already use can increase the wealth of poor people who are not able to afford the (official and unofficial) fees needed to deal with the formal system. It also implies that improved land governance has great potential to benefit the poor directly and indirectly.

Although governments may be responding to donor pressure to improve governance, sustainability of good governance is often only possible if the commitment of government exists to enable the necessary reforms to be implemented. Experience shows that supply-driven governance reforms (i.e. from donors) achieve mixed results. Efforts by donors to properly “anchor” good governance, without strong government commitment and readiness for reform, may not be successful.

How significant is sustainability in land administration?
Sustainability is absolute vital. For the investment in a land administration project to be considered successful, it should be expected that the developments by the end of donor engagement are sustainable. The Thailand land titling programme is one example of a successful program that has long been sustained after the donor support had finished in 2002. The Thai Department of Lands has continued to implement the program, under government funding. A recent technical review undertaken by the World Bank, noted that the land registration in Thailand now generates around ten times its operating costs per annum through fees collected for land transactions and enquiries, although the department remains an on-budget agency and all revenue is returned to the Treasury.

The early World Bank supported land projects, commencing in the early 1980s, were primarily focused on first time registration of property rights. For example, the early Thailand Land Titling Projects have generally been regarded as best practice for achieving first time registration in a developing country. For these early projects, only limited support was provided to legal or institutional reforms, largely due to the adequacy of already established arrangements.

How is the uptake of ICT including geospatial technology in land administration in the South East Asia region?
Over the past thirty years, considerable progress has been made since the initial work on first registration land programs using largely analogue, methods of data capture, presentation and records management. Ongoing rapid advancements in ICT, including the construction of optic fiber networks, and improved telecommunication infrastructure across East Asia is connecting rural and urban populations. The foundations are being laid for a host of e-government services and the building of NSDI that will reach beyond cities and into the rural provinces. Improving tenure security and access to land is central to alleviating poverty and advancing rural livelihoods. A suite of innovative technologies and solutions are available to providing East Asia’s poorest rural and remote communities access to land and property services.

In the East Asia Region, it is interesting to reflect on developments in the country that first received support from the World Bank some thirty years ago. In 2009, Thailand, the Cabinet approved that National ICT Strategic Master Plan 2009-2012, identifying the NSDI and land information from land registration as being one of the key pillars. In April 2011, the Thai government announced its plans to launch the country’s NSDI portal by 2012 which will serve as the national gateway for spatial information and pave the way towards “Spatially Enabling” Thailand. The portal will act as a repository of metadata generated by data producers which will gradually provide services such as access to metadata of the Fundamental Geographic Data Set and well as other spatial data in Thailand. Thailand has a well established land registration system, which is largely still paper-based. But it works well, and Thailand is now about to take the next steps towards NSDI and e-governance. Other countries are also investing heavily in ICT, building their respective NSDI and pursuing e-services.

Let me briefly mention other examples from the region. In the Philippines, the recently endorsed Land Sector Development Framework maps out the scope of NSDI. For Vietnam, NSDI is central to e-governance reform. In Indonesia, early recognition has been given to the important NSDI institutional arrangements and an Executive Order has been issued to mandate the overall lead agency as well as the thematic agency lead agencies. Laos has been undertaking some well-planned pilot developments that will lead to national mainstreaming.

ICT, and specifically geospatial information technologies, will increasingly be on the critical path of the support provided by the World Bank.