July 2007

COMPUTERISATION OF LAND RECORDS IN UGANDA

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The application of e-Government in Uganda is a recent phenomenon. Uganda has in principle adopted a uniform tenure system made up of freehold and leasehold. Since Uganda uses the Torrens system of land registration, the systematically adjudicated and demarcated boundaries were defined by coordinates and GPS equipment was used to generate the coordinates for all the boundary beacons. This created digital databases, which underpin the application of e-Government in the administration and management of land records in Uganda.

Although the application of electronic-government in Uganda is quite recent, the national, political and administrative structures are fairly well established in some government ministries. The e-Government Strategy and Action Plan was drafted in March 2004 by the National ICT Coordination Committee, which was charged with the duty of providing political guidance (Uganda Government 2004). This Committee was assisted by an administrative national ICT Sub-Committee, chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works, Housing and Communications. Other members of this Sub-Committee included prominent people from civil society, industries, financial institutions, telecommunications operators, and prominent educational institutions such as Makerere University. The Sub-Committee provided technical assistance to the National ICT Coordination Committee.

Because Uganda is at the first phase of evolution in e-Government, the awareness of ICT and e-Government is still limited. However, the decentralised nature of both the Ugandan polity and administrative structure seem to be playing a significant role in facilitating the implementation of e-Government. This observation became quite evident at a one-day conference on ‘Enabling e-Government in Uganda,’ held on 6th April 2005, when the Executive Director of Uganda Investment Authority revealed that the expenditure on local government intercommunication and linkages could be reduced by 10% if e-Government is promoted in all the 56 districts of Uganda. At the moment only 4 districts, namely, Kayunga, Mbarara, Mbale and Lira are already computerised. Despite the seemingly late start of e-Government in Uganda, the government showed great commitment when it created a new Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in 2006.

e-Governance, being the computerised administration of government transactions intended to harmonise activities at various administration levels, is expected to effectively reduce costs in running public affairs from the lower levels of government to the Central Government. And through the use of information and technology, government agencies will be able to deliver better results. While the government has to create the right conditions, it is the agencies that actually deliver government information and services and therefore, deliver on e-Government goals. The anticipated outcomes include convenience and satisfaction, integration and efficiency, and participation of the local communities.
The overall effect is that the people have access to government information and services, which are convenient and easy to use; this makes it possible for the government to deliver what is wanted. For example information and services will be integrated, packaged and presented to minimise costs for people, business and providers. And the people will be better informed and better able to participate in government affairs. However, it should be noted that transforming the way the public sector operates may not be achieved overnight.

This article focuses on the computerisation of the land records in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. In this paper, land is defined as a form of wealth and a commodity. As a commodity capable of being bought and sold, land has two special characteristics which distinguish it from all other commodities known to commerce: land is both immovable and everlasting. These qualities make the ownership of land more complicated than the ownership of other commodities. For example, while the owner of commercial goods can remove or destroy them, the owner of land can neither move it nor, in its legal sense, destroy it; his power is limited to the enjoyment or disposition of rights in or over it. Consequently, rights in land can be in the form of easements which are enjoyed by owner of land over the land of another; as security for a loan or for performance of some obligation without handing over its possession; and land can also be made the subject of future interests or even a series of future interests since it can be willed on death.

Land Rights

In creating and maintaining records of land rights, it must be kept in mind that interests in and powers over land may also be enjoyed or exercised by persons other than the owner, whose interests and powers are correspondingly diminished or excluded by transfer or leases of say 99 years. Even short term tenancies in the form of renting or possessory rights can affect ownership of the land. This explains why it is considered prudent for a prospective purchaser to inspect the land in order to ascertain any overriding interests that may affect his uninterrupted enjoyment of the land.

In majority of cases, the state takes more and more powers to ensure that land, whoever owns it, uses it properly. Even the right to sell, is often withheld or restricted, for public policy demands that land shall not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. This is why the state has always had the power of compulsory acquisition, which is a drastic limitation on private ownership. It therefore follows that the State cannot allow anybody to do exactly what he/she likes with land, in complete disregard of the public interest. The state itself will always assert special authority over land, for this is its basic asset.

The Torrens system of land registration which is used in Uganda was adopted in 1908. Under this system the description of land records must include the unambiguous definition of the parcel of land, description of its owner, limitations of the right of ownership, and any right or interest which has been granted or otherwise obtained out of it. The Torrens system ensures that the rights in land are transferred cheaply, quickly, and with certainty. According to economists, freedom and ease of transfer are absolutely vital to promoting the best use of land. However, it is almost impossible to devise a system under which conveyances of land can be conducted with the facility of sales of goods, if registration of title is not made compulsory. This is probably the main reason why the government of Uganda has adopted the systematic adjudication and demarcation approach, which must be compulsorily implemented in the selected area. In other words, once an area has been selected for systematic adjudication and demarcation, all the residents must be issued with land titles. At the end of the whole exercise, the land will be owned and held by the citizens in documentary freehold titles while leasehold titles of up to 99 years could be issued out of freehold already owned by the citizens of Uganda to foreign investors and other land developers.

In the year 2000, the government adopted a Land Sector Strategic Plan (2001-2011) to entrench the freehold and leasehold tenure systems and to enhance the utilisation of Uganda’s land resources for sustainable development. The Land Sector Strategic Plan set up various committees to take charge of different assignments. For example committees were formed to take charge of land information systems, systematic adjudication and demarcation, national land policy, and national land use policy. The systematic adjudication and demarcation committee was instructed to come up with a model that would ensure successful implementation of freehold throughout the country. The systematic adjudication and demarcation pilot projects started in 2002 with four project areas selected in the east, north, central and western provinces of Uganda. At least two pilot projects in Rukarango parish, Ntungamo district in western Uganda and Bulowooza parish, Iganga district in eastern Uganda have so far been successfully carried out. The rest of this article will describe how this was done using the most recent GPS equipment.

Systematic Adjudication and Demarcation in Rukarango Parish

The political leadership at the district level is vested in the District Council headed by the District Council Chairman and assisted by elected representatives from sub-counties. Each sub-county elects a representative and a woman representative. The political leadership in the district is decentralised to the grass-root as follows: The topmost level is the District Local Council (LC5), followed by the County Local Council (LC4), sub-county Local Council (LC3), Parish Local Council (LC2), and Village Local Council (LC1). The decentralised administrative structure at the district is headed by the Council Administrative Officer (CAO), assisted by assistant administrative officers in charge of counties; the sub-counties are headed by county chiefs while the parishes are headed by parish chiefs. The CAO is also in charge of technical committees and departments including the District Land Board, Land Tribunals, Sub-county Land Committees and District Survey Office.

The systematic demarcation committee held sensitisation workshops with district council executive, sub-county council executive, and parish council executive in Ntungamo district, before sensitising the local residents of Rukarango parish about systematic adjudication and demarcation approach which was intended to introduce freehold tenure at the village level. The sensitisation of the local residents was followed by a household survey to assess the personal feelings and views of the local residents about systematic adjudication and demarcation. Although the sensitisation of the residents of Rukarango parish was done during the rainy season, such that few people attended the sensitisation meetings, at least 53% of the residents who were interviewed accepted the systematic program. Only 29% of the residents in the central and 24% in the north provinces accepted the program. The results of the survey showed that the Systematic Demarcation Team which sensitised the parishes in the central and north provinces of Uganda used Radio and News media to sensitise the residents. Because very few residents listen to radios regularly and the majority do not read newspapers, the message about systematic demarcation and documentary title did not reach the grass-root people. Consequently, the Systematic Demarcation Committee allowed the pilot project to start in Rukarango parish while more sensitisation was recommended for the other two parishes in the north and central provinces of Uganda.

The Systematic Demarcation Committee, the District Survey Office, the National Survey Office and an ad hoc Parish Land Committee representing the Sub-county Land Committee were all involved in the systematic adjudication and demarcation exercise. The National Survey Office represented the Private Surveyors because none of the private survey firms had acquired the DataGrid GPS differential system, which was the recommended equipment to survey the systematically demarcated boundaries of parcels in the selected parishes. Equally, the ad hoc Parish Land Committee was appointed because the District Council had not yet appointed the substantive sub-county Land Committees.

Three adjudication committees were formed to adjudicate land rights in the 9 villages of Rukarango parish. Each adjudication committee was made up of LC1 chairman, representative of women on LC1 committee, a member of parish land committee, two people to drive pegs at identified corner boundaries of plots and to paint them in a conspicuous colour (red was mostly used), and a member of Systematic Demarcation Committee as supervisor. The national survey team also divided itself into three teams. Each team had an advance party to plant markstones where pegs had been placed and a survey party to take measurements over the markstones using the DataGrid hand held GPS equipment. Each survey team moved closely behind the systematic adjudication team.

At the end of the field work, the adjudication and survey data were processed into a cadastral map for the parish. The adjudication, demarcation and survey of approximately 3000 plots were completed within three months. The cadastral map was then taken back to Rukarango parish for the editing exercise which revealed the following errors:

  • There were cut and paste errors which were introduced into the cadastral map by the cartographer;
  • There were missing plots and markstones which had not been plotted or were plotted in wrong places; and
  • Shapes of some plots had been wrongly plotted;

At least over 90% of the plots were plotted correctly on the cadastral map. The Rukarango systematic adjudication and demarcation pilot project was successful mainly because numbered markstones were used. Although the land titles have not yet been issued to the citizens, the plans to computerise the land registry are in advanced stages.

Systematic Adjudication and Demarcation in Bulowooza Parish

The systematic demarcation committee held sensitisation workshops with district council executive, sub-county council executive, and parish council executive of Iganga district at the beginning of 2006, before sensitising the local residents of the Bulowooza parish about systematic adjudication and demarcation approach. The sensitisation of the local residents was then followed by a household survey to assess the personal feelings and views of the local residents about systematic adjudication and demarcation. Although all the five villages were sensitised, the systematic adjudication and demarcation exercise has only been completed in Bulowooza and Madhigandere villages. This is because land ownership issues in the other three villages have not been fully resolved.

A total of 784 parcels of land were demarcated and surveyed in 44 days: 295 parcels in Madhigandere were completed in 21 days while 489 parcels in Bulowooza were completed in 23 days. The reduction in time taken to demarcate and survey land parcels in Bulowooza village, which also translated into reduction in costs for the demarcation exercise, was due to a number of factors. Firstly, the survey teams were now familiar with the topography and therefore the movement of the survey teams was better coordinated. Secondly, the GPS base stations were already established which also led to a reduction in the survey procedures. And thirdly, the local residents were friendlier with both the adjudication and demarcation teams and the survey teams which were identifying and taking measurements of the corner beacons. This is because the local residents tend to drop any suspicions they may have had at the beginning of the project.

CONCLUSION

Although e-Government is a new phenomenon in Uganda, there are good prospects that it will succeed in many government ministries and institutions. Firstly, the decentralised nature of the Uganda polity and administrative structure that are already in place, have set a firm foundation upon which e-Government will flourish. Secondly, the gender balance, which is reflected in all government structures, and which was one of the criteria in selecting systematic adjudication teams, will help to streamline some of the existing customary laws that discriminate against women with respect to land ownership. A combination of these two factors is most likely to make freehold tenure system acceptable to the majority of the local population. At least a precedent for creating permanent and reliable data for land information system in Uganda has already been set. There remains the creation of district land offices which will handle land administration in the districts sustainably. When this is done, e-Governance will be well rooted and the land records will be cheaply and efficiently managed for the benefit of the citizens.

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