Land governance

Dec 2011 | One Comment
This paper discusses the World Bank support for sustainable land reform, focusing on the East Asia Region, with particular emphases on initiatives in land governance, land development investment, tenure security, NSDI, e-government, land tax, spatial planning, disaster response and mitigation. Readers may recall that we have published the first and second part of the paper in October 2011 and November 2011 issue. We present here the concluding part of the paper

Keith Clifford Bell

World Bank, East Asia Pacific Region
Washington DC, USA

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 countrylevel 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 recognized 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 MDGs.
Good governance is increasingly recognized as critical to effective development and sustainability. Specifically for the land sector governance, a fully functioning land and property system is composed of four building blocks: (a) a system of rules that defines the bundle of rights and obligations between people and assets reflecting the multiplicity and diversity of property systems around the world; (b) a system of governance; (c) a functioning market for the registration, exchange of assets; and (d) an instrument of social policy. Each of these components can be dysfunctional, operating against the poor.
Even in terms of standard indicators such as corruption, land has long been known to be one of the sectors most affected by bad governance, something that is not difficult to understand in light of the fact that land is not only a major asset but also that its values are likely to rise rapidly in many contexts of urbanization and economic development. The most authoritative survey of global corruption finds that, after the police and the court, land services are the most corrupt sector, ahead of other permits, education, health, tax authorities, or public utilities (Transparency International 2009). This survey found the levels of bribery across public sectors as follows: (a) land services, 15%; (b) police, 24%); (c) judiciary, 16%; (d) registry and permit services, 13%; (e) education, 9%; (f) health, 9%; (g) taxation, 7%; and (h) utilities, 7%.
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 $700 million (Transparency International India 2005), 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.

Land governance assessment framework

The World Bank, in collaboration with other partners, has developed the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF), a tool designed to help countries assess their policies and practices regarding land governance, setting a benchmark for comparison and monitoring of progress. It comprises a set of eighty detailed Land Governance Indicators which are ranked on a scale of precoded statements, from the degree of good governance to best practice. The LGAF addresses the need for guidance to diagnose and benchmark land governance, helping countries prioritize reforms, and monitor progress over time. It focuses on five broad thematic areas that have been identified as major areas for policy intervention in the land sector, viz. The legal framework, land-use planning, public land management, the availability of land-related information, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Table 2 presents a summarized version of LGAF’s five thematic governance areas, comprising twenty-one index groups and eighty specific indicators (World Bank, 2010).
Initially piloting of the LGAF has been undertaken across a range of countries in different regions during 2008-09. In East Asia, Indonesia was the pilot country. If applied in a way that draws on existing expertise and broad participation by relevant stakeholders (including governments) from the beginning, the LGAF can not only help to broaden the range of issues to be covered in such analysis but also the relevance of the resulting analysis and the credibility of resulting recommendations for policy or further study. In all of the countries studied, the LGAF was useful as a diagnostic tool to identify gaps in policy and the way in which institutions function or responsibilities between institutions are assigned. A second use of, to monitor discrete (rule-based) indicators for policy reform, follows immediately and can provide an excellent opportunity for a broad-based coalition of actors (including NGOs, the private sector, and academics) to monitor to what extent recommendations are followed through. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the LGAF points towards a number of quantitative indicators which, together with the initial diagnostic, are essential to continually monitor land governance. The fact that each of these indicators is related to one or more core areas of the land administration system suggests that collection and publication of these indicators on a regular basis, and to accommodate wide variations of these indicators over space in a way that can be easily disaggregated, should be a routine in any land administration system.

Sustainability of land administration systems

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. Sustainability has many elements including: (a) capacity; (b) budget; (c) good governance, transparency and accountability; (d) security of land records from loss, destruction and fraud; (e) reliable and consistent delivery of services which are accessible, government commitment and public confidence; to name but a few.
There should be sufficient capacity in the public sector and hopefully also private sector. Land administration agencies should have sufficient recurrent budget to maintain their operations and have access to additional investment budgets to undertake the necessary developments and improvements to maintain their efficiency and effectiveness. Whilst in many developed countries there are examples of land administration agencies which are self-funded, from land registration and other fees they collect, it should never be forgotten that it has taken a very long time to achieve such a status, and much longer than the duration of on one or more phases of land administration project implementation.
The Thailand land titling program 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 (DoL) has continued to implement the program, under government funding. A technical review undertaken by the World Bank in August 2009, 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 DoL remains an on-budget agency and all revenue is returned to the Treasury. In Thailand, the majority of all land transfers are generally completed in less than three hours.

Concluding remarks

Land-related issues will continue to be high priority areas of engagement by the World Bank as evidenced by the continuing concerns of food security, climate change, disaster mitigation and response, poverty alleviation, growing urbanization, carbon, conflict, human rights and so. That land is now more clearly seen as a cross-sectoral issue, may see an increasing trend of dealing with land issues under a broader project or program agenda. ICT, and specifically geospatial information technologies, will increasingly be on the critical path of the support provided by the World Bank. The importance of the cadastre, in its broadest sense, and its governance, remains paramount in almost all development interventions. It therefore follows that investment in land administration systems should explicitly see the development of the NSDI and spatial enablement of the government as part of overall reform, which facilitates an expanded agenda that includes land governance, social development, sustainable management of natural resources and the environment, disaster prevention, climate change, carbon monitoring and so forth. However, such investments need to be calibrated for the specific country requirements, including capacity and sustainability.
For land-related professionals, especially surveyors and spatial information scientists, it is essential that their engagement in land administration, and governance reform, is based on the prudent and balanced application of new technologies and appropriate levels of spatial accuracies. Overengineered data bases, requiring unnecessary data fields and unnecessary high levels of spatial accuracy, are costly to develop and maintain. These professionals must also recognize the broader social, cultural, political, economic and financial factors that shape the cadastres and NSDIs. The focus of thinking and investment should be on good governance and completeness, reliability, fitness-for-use and cost-effectiveness of land-related data rather than spatial accuracy. The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) has a very prominent role to play at both global and regional levels in shaping the thinking of land professionals to ensure sound investment in modern technologies.


Bell, K. C., 2009. Trends in Land Administration and Management with Particular Reference to World Bank Support for Projects in the East Asia Region, FIG 7th Regional Conference, Oct. 19-21, 2009, Hanoi.
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The author acknowledges the very helpful inputs from World Bank colleagues Klaus Deininger, Malcolm Childress, Stuart Gill and Edward Anderson.

My Coordinates
His Coordinates
Rajesh C Mathur and Dr Rajeev Shorey, Dr R Sivakumar
Beyond Spatial Enablement
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December 2011 TO November 2012

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One Comment »

  • Gulid Fareeq said:

    Thank you Mr Bell for the three very informative reports in Coordinates. I have learnt much about the work of the World Bank, in support of spatial information.

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