Geospatial technologies are increasingly playing a critical role in improving the governance of land tenure and its administration across the globe
For the past three years, tenure and land administration have been at the centre stage globally. International negotiations have centred attention on their pivotal relevance in addressing climate change, natural disasters, violent conflicts and migration from rural areas. They have even covered core land administration themes of registration and cadastres, property valuation and taxation, spatial planning, dispute resolution, and standards for sharing spatial and other information on tenure. Other topics under debate included transfers of tenure rights through markets, expropriation, land reform, land redistribution and land consolidation.
The negotiations resulted in the globally agreed document, Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. As the name suggests, the Guidelines address tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests as many people depend on access to different natural resources. Governments from all regions and with diverse political, economic, social and religious views negotiated the text. Civil society and private sector organisations also participated in the process.
The Guidelines are based on a consultative process started by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The negotiations were led by the Committee on World Food Security, the United Nations forum for policies concerned with world food security, which officially endorsed the Guidelines in May 2012. The implementation of the Guidelines has since been supported in the Rio+20 Declaration and by the United Nations General Assembly, G20, G8, l’Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, and the Berlin Summits of Agricultural Ministers. FAO is supporting the implementation of the Guidelines through a programme of awareness raising, capacity development, support to countries, development of partnerships and monitoring.
In representing internationally accepted practices, the Guidelines built on existing examples of responsible governance of tenure. Changes in technology can contribute to improved governance of land tenure by making services more accessible, accountable, affordable, effective, efficient, equitable and transparent, and by reducing costs and limiting opportunities for corruption. Here are a few examples of how the voluntary guidelines are improving land management across countries and helping authorities deliver good governance.
Solutions for Open Land Administration
“Implementing agencies should adopt simplified procedures and locally suitable technology to reduce the costs and time required for delivering services.” (Guidelines, paragraph 17.4).
In many countries, land administration procedures are complex and inefficient, and enable corrupt practices to flourish. Open source software offers the promise of improving transparency and reducing costs of land registration services by using flexible, affordable software tools to standardise and maintain these services.
FAO, with the support of Finland, developed the SOLA open source software that has been used to improve the structure and accessibility of land records in pilot implementations in Samoa, Nepal and Ghana. The SOLA software was designed based on international good practice for service delivery, responsible governance of tenure (including transparency of process and of tenure details), robust data management and the need for enterprise software. Each pilot implementation was undertaken by a team of local software developers who customised the generic SOLA software to reflect local land legislation and administrative practices. The work has now been extended to include Tonga (to support processing of land applications), Lesotho (to support lease management) and four states in Nigeria (to support systematic registration).
“National standards should be developed for the shared use of information, taking into account regional and international standards.” (Guidelines, paragraph 6.5).
The SOLA database design was based on the standard of the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) in order to profit from the knowledge gained when LADM was developed. LADM was approved by ISO as a standard in November 2012 and is expected to improve the design of computerised systems supporting land administration functions and to facilitate information sharing. Newly introduced computerised land administration systems in Albania and Montenegro are also examples of systems based on LADM.
ICT for governance of tenure & administration
“States and non-state actors should endeavour to prevent corruption with regard to tenure rights.” (Guidelines, paragraph 6.9). “As part of broader public information sharing, records of tenure rights should be available to state agencies and local governments to improve their services.” (Guidelines, paragraph 17.4).
Tackling corruption in the land sector is intrinsically linked to improving its governance. Transparent, accessible and accountable systems for land administration can create a basis for corruption-free land dealings. Many countries in Europe and Central Asia (including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Moldova, Russian Federation, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine) provide data online, which minimises the need for clients to visit the local offices and reduces opportunities for corrupt practices. In Albania, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, online tracking modules have been implemented in the form of simple Web-based applications that allow citizens to follow the workflow of their applications relative to the time defined by the law for processing the transactions. In Russian Federation the case distribution is done automatically in order to avoid possible corruption.
Services and governance are being improved by linking spatial data through e-governance, thereby providing governments with new ways to integrate planning, taxation, disaster risk management, and the monitoring, mitigation and adaptation of climate change.
Computerisation of land administration systems can simplify and streamline workflows, and minimise the number of visits that clients need to make to public offices to complete a land administration transaction. Improved efficiencies allow agencies to cut fees, and improved responses times enable them to remove opportunities for bribing officials to accelerate services.
Computerised systems in Albania, Croatia, Russian Federation and Ukraine allow for monitoring of performance against new standards for turn-around times. Publicising of the monitored performance relative to the standards give clients confidence that they will receive the stated level of service.
Introducing digital archives (which SOLA provides) enables core information to be used across an agency which, in turn, allows for increased flexibility and the simplification of procedures. Land registration and cadastre agencies are able to harmonise records and so help protect society against fraud, illegal property transactions and money laundering. Other benefits include improving the efficiency of operations, security of records, use of office space and disaster mitigation.
Crowdsourcing is being used to improve public confidence in land administration records in several countries in Europe and Central Asia. Land records are now available through the Internet and citizens are encouraged to report discrepancies so they can be corrected. Importantly, ICT can also provide safeguards to reduce the likelihood that women are dis- advantaged in critical land administration transactions such as those recording and affecting marital property and inheritance. FAO and the World Bank are providing support to six Western Balkan countries to generate gender-disaggregated reports from the land administration IT systems and to train local NGOs, government staff and decision-makers to use the data for evidence-based policy making. Data shows that even if laws give equal opportunities to all, prevailing customs may limit women’s ownership of land. There is considerable variation among the countries, with the percentage of women registered as landowners ranging between 15-39%.
“States should establish policies and laws to promote the sharing, as appropriate, of spatial and other information on tenure rights for the effective use by the State and implementing agencies, indigenous peoples and other communities, civil society, the private sector, academia and the general public.” (Guidelines, paragraph 6.5).
Land administration information is a fundamental component of Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI). The information produced and distributed by cadastre and mapping authorities is an integral part of the SDIs and represents above 85 percent of the so-called reference data (base maps) without which the SDI could not be established.
The road ahead
FAO’s research has shown that improving governance of tenure is needed around the world. The need for improvements differs significantly from one country to another but all countries should keep a focus on governance of tenure as maintaining high standards is an ongoing process. There will always be a need to make improvements, for example, as a result of changing conditions, changing needs, or new technologies (e.g. SOLA open source software) that can be modified and used to improve the governance of tenure.
Partnerships play an important role in improving governance of tenure. Professionals who work with geospatial technologies can make a valuable contribution by developing relationships across borders and so exchange their experiences on how to improve governance of tenure and its administration.