Understanding land administration systems

Nov 2008 | No Comment

Ian Williamson, Stig Enemark, Jude Wallace, Abbas Rajabifard

This paper introduces basic land administration theory and highlights four key concepts that are fundamental to understanding modern land administration systems. Readers may recall the first part of the paper in October issue of Coordinates. Here is the concluding part that focuses on the changing role of ownership and the role of land markets.
Structures that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision.

These general considerations link land administration with governance so that land governance is seen as essential to successful nationhood and civic capacity. In its study on Good Governance in Land Tenure and Administration, FAO remarks:

“The message to land administrators is that they cannot pursue technical excellence in isolation. Their skills and techniques should serve the interests of society as a whole… Land administrators act as guardians of the rights to land and the people who hold those rights. In doing so, they act to stabilize public order and provide the preconditions of a thriving economy.” (FAO, 2007).

The major international agencies demonstrate that successful land administration requires accountable government. Sustainable systems require the institutions that interact with the citizens who are its intended beneficiaries do so in ways that build their confidence, particularly by negating disputes and managing points of tension relating to land ownership, use and availability.

The major engagement should involve policy formation and implementation to ensure that the system reflects the cognitive capacity of the beneficiaries and their beliefs about land. A national capacity to create laws through legislation and subordinate legislation is also necessary for sustainable LAS. For nations on the development track, rule by law, rather than rule by elites or ad hoc responses to circumstances, is essential. These conditions apply even if the nation’s administration horizon includes land held in social tenures that rely on informal systems of land management.

For successful governance, institutions need to be stable, transparent and free of corruption. Weak governance in land administration leads to massive overregulation, production of conflicting and gap-ridden bodies of laws, standards and documents, but with little cohesion and mutual reinforcement of legal and economic norms. Sadly, LAS more often exhibit corruption in collection of fees; multiple rent seeking and unnecessary processes; delivery of multiple and ineffective titles to parcels; arbitrary allocation of land and negligible capacity for planning or controlling building quality. Repeated problems in developing countries include legitimation of mass land theft; failure to police uncontrolled evictions; inability to manage interaction between competing tenure holders especially between land owners and users and resource takers; and inability to manage state assets. Weak governance will never be able to manage the transition of the world’s populations from rural areas to urban slums. Simply good governance is central to delivery of appropriate, effective and efficient land administration in both developing and developed countries.


This paper argues that it is difficult if not impossible to design, build and manage land administration systems that will support sustainable development unless a there is a good understanding of the underlying theories and concepts, particularly as applied to an integrated land administration framework. The paper discusses the basic ingredients of the framework being the land management paradigm, land administration processes, the use of the tool box approach and the role of land administration in delivering sustainable development.

The key concepts that are explored in more detail to improve understanding include the land management paradigm, the role of the cadastre in land administration, the changing nature of ownership and the role of land markets, and the need for and components of a land management vision. The paper concludes by emphasizing the need for good governance as an overarching principle otherwise all the other components will not be achievable.


This paper draws on the collective experience and research of the authors over many years and particularly in recent years as they have worked together on a new book to be titled“Land administration and sustainable development” to be published by ESRI Press in the USA in 2009. The article also draws on the research of colleagues and graduate students in the Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructures and Land Administration, Department of Geomatics, University of Melbourne. This paper has been presented at the International Seminar on Land Administration Trends and Issues in Asia and The Pacific Region, 19-20 August 2008, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as part of the 14th meeting of the UN sponsored Permanent Committee on GIS infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific (PCGIAP).


De Soto, Hernando, 2000, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Bantam Press, London, 235 pp

Enemark, S., Williamson, I., and Wallace, J. 2005, Building Modern Land Administration Systems in Developed Economies. Journal of Spatial Science. 50:51-68.

FAO 2007, Good Governance and land tenure and administration, FAO Land Tenure Series No 9. Rome. http://www. en.htm (Accessed 5 August, 2008)

UNECE 2005, Land Administration in the UNECE Region Development Trends and Main Principles. Geneva. http://www. 140-e.pdf (Accessed 5 August, 2008)

Wallace, J. and I.P. Williamson, 2006a.“Building Land Markets”, Journal of Land Use Policy, Vol 23/2 pp 123-135

Williamson, I., Enemark, S., and Wallace, J. (eds.). 2006, Sustainability

and Land Administration Systems. Department of Geomatics, University

of Melbourne, Australia. http://www.

SDI_research/EGM%20BOOK. pdf (Accessed 5 August, 2008).

Ian P. Williamson

Professor of Surveying and Land Information,
Centre for SDI and Land Administration,
University of Melbourne

Stig Enemark

President of the International
Federation of Surveyors, FIG.

Jude Wallace

Lawyer and a Senior Research Fellow, Centre for
SDIs and Land Administration,
University of Melbourne

Abbas Rajabifard

Director of the Centre for SDIs and Land
Administration, Department of Geomatics,
University of Melbourne
My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

«Previous 1 2View All| Next»

Pages: 1 2

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (86 votes, average: 1.35 out of 5)

Leave your response!

You must be logged in to post a comment.