Australians take for granted the British based land titling and administration systems where the rule of law
protects basic property rights. However in developing countries land administration systems fall far short
of this ideal and tackling this issue is one of the key tasks carried out by development assistance agencies.
The World Bank's projects and operations are designed to support low-income and middle-income countries'
poverty reduction strategies. Countries develop strategies around a range of reforms and investments likely
to improve people's lives - from universal education to passable roads, from quality health care to improved
governance and inclusive economic growth. In parallel, the Bank strives to align its assistance with the
country's priorities and harmonize its aid program with other agencies to boost aid effectiveness.
An effective and efficient system for administering land tenure security, in which property rights to land are
secured and enforced through functional land registration and dispute resolution systems, is a critical ingredient
to enable growth. The impact of secure property rights on attracting investments, creating an enabling
investment climate, facilitating access to credit and reducing the volume/backlog of land and property disputes
cannot be understated.
Similarly, a well-functioning public land management system is critical; to ensure public land is allocated efficiently,
utilized strategically, leveraged to attract investment, and equitably accessed by the urban poor.
One of the greatest challenges facing many developing countries today is to find a means of unlocking the
economic value of vast amounts of extralegal or nregistered land. In a landmark study in the field, The Mystery
of Capital (2000), Hernando de Soto asserts that about 90% of the Egyptian population holds its real estate
assets extra-legally, meaning that the exchange value of these assets cannot be fully utilized. He further
estimates that there is over US$245 billion of land assets in Egypt's extralegal sector, an amount six times the
total savings and fixed deposits in Egyptian banks and 30 times greater than the market value of 746 companies
registered on the Cairo stock exchange.
Consequently, policy makers are paying greater attention to the value of land in the extralegal sector - both
for its use value, and for its exchange value - as more sophisticated financial instruments are developed to
leverage land as an economic asset. It is no surprise, therefore, that efficient, automated land titling and
registration systems have become of increasing interest to policy makers.
These issues have been addressed in recent World Bank sponsored projects in Palestine (Gaza and West
Bank) and in Yemen, where SGS was assigned the public land policy development role in teams put together
by Australian firm Land Equity International (LEI).
Such projects normally face a context where the legal frameworks are confusing and incomplete. In Palestine,
for example, there is traditional Sharia (Islamic) law, tribal law, Ottoman law, Jordanian law, Egyptian law,
British Mandate law and Israeli occupation law. In Yemen there is Sharia, tribal, Ottoman and British law (in
the former Protectorate area in the south). A major complication in Yemen is the legacy of a period of
socialisation of all land in the south. Land ownership disputes are rife in both countries and these frequently
erupt into violence.
Of critical importance are the governance arrangements and institutional structures. In many ways there are
pressures to resist transparency and accountability in the land administration system as some powerful
elites have a vested interest in keeping their dealings in the informal sector. Indeed, at all levels of bureaucracies
there are long standing practices involving misuse of power. The situation is exacerbated by very low salaries
for operatives in important roles.
Resources such as offices, vehicles, survey equipment GIS, aerial photogrammetry and computers are invariably
deficient and the skills that are necessary to operate modern systems are lacking. Consequently, a long-term
development approach is necessary, involving parallel strategies for skills development and institutional law
reform. Pilot studies are an effective means of creating a base camp from which further development of systems
may be pursued.
The policy framework developed by SGS for LEI takes the following form:
• Development of a land classification system identifying public land and private land in its various forms.
• Compilation of a public land inventory making a distinction between land reserved for public purposes and
other public land which may be treated as ‘real estate'. The inventory is an essential step for land management
purposes, particularly from an environmental management point of view, but also to prevent encroachment and
illegal alienation of public land.
• Putting in place an ownership verification system that provides for resolution of disputes.
• Developing a system of public land custodianship where the responsibilities for the care and management of
public land are allocated. This includes allocation of responsibilities between the various levels of government.
The system must allow for the various agencies of government to obtain land to carry out their functions in the
environmental management, social development and economic development spheres.
• Developing protocols for dealing in public land that are transparent and protect the public interest.
• Implementing a land management resourcing arrangement based on land taxes and administration fees to
fund the land management process.
• Review of land law to implement the land administration system.
• Integration with the land-use planning system.
The scope of the task is daunting but failure to address these issues is not an option for developing countries
in an increasingly competitive global environment.