Farida Karoney: Quality of data hurdle in digitising land records

real estate - August 31, 2021

Kenya’s Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney spoke with James Anyanzwa about the government’s grand plan to digitise land records to reduce the cost of doing business and curb land ownership disputes.

The process of land registration is a bottleneck in the ease of doing business in Kenya. What are you doing about it?

The idea behind digitising the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning is to ease property registration, introduce transparency in land administration and management in the manner stipulated in the Constitution: Transparency, equity, non-discrimination and to protect the rights and responsibilities of property owners.

To this end, the government has started digitising land transactions so that whatever landowners and sellers were doing physically by coming to the registry, they can now do digitally. For instance, a search, which is one of the most popular processes of the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning, now involves registering as a user and then proceeding to conduct your search without having to be attended to at the ministry.

Prior to 2018, it took up to 90 days to register a single property in Kenya. We have managed to reduce that to below 10 days, and on the digital platform it could be just a matter of hours if you have everything you need to transact.

So digitisation is the answer to easing transactions in the land sector and introducing accountability and transparency and also safeguarding the integrity of our records.

What incentives, in terms of land, are available to investors?

First, we didn’t have a proper register for public lands. What we are doing currently with the digitisation programme is separating private and public land. This means that once the digitisation is completed, at a click of a button, you can know which public lands are available to investors.

We are creating a cadastre of public lands so that you know how much is available. We are also creating transparency because when you digitise the processes, investors can interrogate our system and see who has which land and where.

This means no investor will now be sold land fraudulently, or land that does not actually exist because with this system, it is now possible for an investor to do their due diligence.

Second, the platform itself is creating transparency by eliminating middle men and brokers who increase the cost of doing business through brokerage services and cartels.

So the system itself removes these bottlenecks and makes it easier for investors or anybody interested in transacting in our sector to do so easily, cost effectively, and efficiently.

What is the progress on the government’s grand plan of digitisation?

The president launched the National Lands Information Management System on April 27. The system is currently live only in Nairobi but our intention is to cover the whole country by the end of 2022. Also, Nairobi is not live on both registries, where we have a Nairobi Registry and a registry we call the Central Registry.

Nairobi Registry is what is live and we did that deliberately because we wanted to first address all the bottlenecks and the teething problems, which we were experiencing in the migration to the digital platform before covering the second registry in Nairobi.

What challenges have you faced?

First is the uptake of the system in Nairobi and the quality of the data in our custody. The NLIMS is robust, secure and I can say that without any fear of contradiction because it has been four months since we launched, and nobody has been able to compromise the system.

The challenge we are facing is the quality of our data. We are uploading data on to this platform that meets three criteria: The integrity test, the completeness test and the accuracy test. If any data doesn’t meet these three elements we don’t upload it.

So the platform is fantastic, but the current challenge is the quality of data and we are working with landowners and different professionals to clean that up. We hope to complete data cleaning in another month. In almost three months we shall be through with Nairobi and we will have moved fully to the counties outside Nairobi.

What changes or benefits will come from digitisation of land records?

First, no more queuing at Lands ministry offices because one only needs a computer or mobile device to access the register. Second, it is a transparent system so that everything you do on it either as a government officer or a landowner, leaves an audit trail.

So even if you were to alter a record we can very easily tell who did it and on what date and time. Third, security of record. One of the biggest challenges we have in the Ministry of Lands is either loss of records or theft of records. This platform is secure and once we upload a record, it is impossible to change it.

The other benefit is the guarantee of the security of rights and land tenure. In the manual system there are instances of having more than one title deed for one parcel of land. In the new system, there is one title, one parcel of land and once it is there we can guarantee that it is secure.

The national government is a guarantor of titles. You cannot guarantee title if you can’t secure the records. Once everything is digital there is no reason why we should not be able to complete transactions within 24 hours or at most 48 hours.

The other obvious benefit is providing data to other government agencies including the Judiciary, Kenya Revenue Authority, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

What is the relationship between the Ministry of Lands and the National Lands Commission?

The roles of the two agencies are spelt out both in statutes and in the Constitution. So there is no reason for us to fight. Sometimes there are conflicts because there are overlaps in roles.

But we have found mechanisms to iron them out and I wouldn’t say it is one of those things that give me sleepless nights. The only thing that gives me sleepless nights is the need to digitalise and digitalise quickly because our country needs these reforms.

As the country approaches the 2022 general election what have you put in place to avert land-related conflicts?

President Uhuru Kenyatta has been keen on this issue and that is why land reform is one of his strategic priorities because we want to remove land as a campaign issue. First, there is a programme in the ministry called the National Titling Programme launched in 2013.

Prior to 2013, Kenya had only registered six million titles and between 2013 and now which is about eight years we have registered 5.2 million titles. A lot of this is happening at the Coast region where land is an emotive issue.

Does the ministry have integrated regional land programmes for the EAC?

We are working very closely with our neighbours on the reaffirmation of our boundaries, which is a programme being run through the Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government. So we work very closely together in terms of making sure our collective borders are safe and secure and they are clearly marked.

We doing this jointly under the joint commission for co-operation in Tanzania, South Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda. In terms of whether we have integrated land reform programmes, I think we have not gone deeply into working with each other because each of the partner states are working on their own land reform programmes.

African Union has a collective policy declaration and pronouncements on what we should do in terms of equity and sustainable use of land. We have just started working with neighbouring states to implement this AU policy.

Is blockchain technology in land administration working?

We haven’t gone the blockchain way but we believe strongly that we have developed a system that is secure because the whole idea of blockchain is security and security of data.

Our data is highly encrypted and to that extent I believe the platform we have built is safe and robust. I keep saying that it is one of the best systems I know in government in deploying anything.

I’m not too worried about security. What I keep worrying about is the quality of our data because over the past 60 years we haven’t done well in managing our records.


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