By Paul Ndiho
Antiquated land registration systems have been holding back the economic development of Sub-Saharan African countries. This is certainly true in Uganda. With only 20% of the country’s land legally registered, land disputes are on the rise. But in the last couple years, the government decided to overhaul its land management and land administration systems. I recently traveled to Uganda to find out how the new system is working.
I’d heard the buzz about a pilot computerized land reform management system being put into place in my country Uganda. The old land registration system has been a drag on development. The country’s population has grown exponentially in the last decade and that’s putting enormous pressures on the land.
The government is implementing a state-of-the-art system designed and implemented by Thomson Reuters and its partners. I’m here in the capital, Kampala, to ask the experts and senior government officials to explain the new land information system and its benefits to the public.
Amadra Ori – Okida is an independent consultant hired by the Ugandan government to help introduce a modernized system.
“All the documents related to land registration were actually in a very poor situation. The filing, the organization — you could see heaps upon heaps of documents.
The old manual system dates back to the colonial era, as you can see at the national land records office in Entebbe according to John Kitaka, Principal staff cartographer at the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
“If you want to work on the northern region you come in this and if you want to work on Western region, it is all kept in here, even when you want to work on Eastern region you know where to go … when you are working on a computer you keep all your stuff in folders so these are our folders.”
Dennis Obbo, the Ministry Spokesperson says that the Ugandan government is betting this new computerized system will end it land disarray and corruption in its land registry system.
“We had a very big problem in the registries, we had a very big problem with our land administration records, they were always getting lost, misplaced, we didn’t have adequate space to keep them, we had a lot of forgeries going on and our own staff – I’m sorry to say they were altering documents. We could not track who had what Title, what had been issued. Later on, there was a problem of multiple titles where a number of Titles had been issued on the same piece of land.”
Under the old manual system, it took days or weeks for the public to get the documents that they wanted. The public deeply disliked having to pay bribes to get the job done.
Richard Oput, the Coordinator Land Tenure Reform observes that “What was happening before, you presented in a district your documents then went to Entebbe to Kampala – Kampala to Entebbe and back to the district and sometimes they would tell you to come back again and sometimes you’re not able to complete this… Many people would give up.”
With the new system, there are no more deteriorating paper deeds. Within eight months of startup, the Ministry’s staff digitized more than half a million of these old paper titles. They also scanned torn and tattered maps. These new computer documents are indexed into a state-of-the-art geographic information system according to the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development – Daudi Migereko.
“We have had tremendous success in this regard, when we look at the way the information is presently stored, then consider the amount it takes to retrieve the information, I think we have had a major breakthrough. This increases the level of confidence on the part of the public that we are trying to serve.”
The Commissioner in Charge of Lands, Sarah Kulata Basangwa, believes the investment will greatly reduce land disputes and promote economic growth.
“Everyone will have confidence in the document of ownership, then people will invest more, banks will accept this document more and more there will do less due diligence than they have been doing before lending, so the cost of lending, the cost of the administrative procedure they do in lending will also reduce and people will have more encouragement to invest more in the land.”
Well, the new Land Information System is laying the foundation for addressing those challenges and assuring a prosperous future for Uganda. Remember the rapid population that I mentioned earlier, and how it challenged the economic future of the country. With this new system, I’m optimistic that it will lead to sustained economic growth.