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Coronavirus pandemic drives property sector towards digitisation

By Mwangi Muiruri | April 9th 2020

Cabinet Secretary for Lands Farida Karoney during her tour to lands offices in Machakos town on January 28, 2019. Ms Karoney said that they are digitizing lands records to fight lands cartels adding that they will decentralize lands registry to ease issuance of title deeds in Machakos. [John Muia, Standard]

The government has embraced digitisation of the property market even as the Covid-19 scourge forces stakeholders away from brick and mortar operations.

Already, Lands and Physical Planning Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney has closed all land offices and registries indefinitely to prevent the spread of coronavirus through the usual crowding in public offices.

Ms Karoney said digitisation of property registration was one of the key areas targeted in the government’s reform agenda, adding that the ministry was willing to engage all stakeholders in fast-tracking the process.

“Be it land or buildings we have to go online not for the sake of it, but for the common benefit of the sector. Simplicity in accessing the digitised sector should be the hallmark of the process,” said the CS.

The system, she added, will be run by authorised users with verifiable administration passwords who will have ability to create, edit and delete file data.

It will also have an audit trail of all document edits and ability to print or save in electronic form for submission to regulatory agencies.

Karoney said property dealers should be able to place their offers online and at the same time interact with government agencies online to authenticate and register the deals. 

This would see property agents save on costs of running an office and instead work from home with limited staff.

“The government can issue occupier certificates and title deeds online. It is only that the stakeholders in this drive have not been enthusiastic, committed and willing to deal with this issue in favour of full digitisation,” she said.

Karoney has already appointed a ministerial task force on electronic conveyancing mandated to develop regulations to guide e-transactions, a process that has wavered since it was mooted in 2006.

“There would be no need for those agents and brokers organising masses to go and do physical visits on the ground as well as wasting time on queues in offices. The property deals, apart from surveying services and beaconing, can be done online,” she said.

The CS said her ministry was working with the National Treasury to develop and implement a digital service delivery system.

“The government is keen on abolishing manual procedures for services that can be obtained online,” she said.

Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri said the Covid-19 disease has proved that technology can be used to good effect.

As fear of the virus reigns, he said, many offices have remained closed hence inducing a shutdown in the trading of property.

“But this need not be the case, we should have moved into the digital platform 10 years ago,” Mr Muraguri told Home & Away.

“The idea has always been there on the table but stakeholders have been tackling the issue with suspicion. Many of the stakeholders have not been enthusiastic to discard the old way of doing things.”

He said the property market can be transacted exclusively on a digital platform from authenticating ownership to titling and remittance of rates.

Major impediment

The PS said digitisation is the surest way of conforming to Covid-19 demands as well as dealing a fatal blow to the corrupt cartels that thrive on bribes, hiding files and altering records to execute fraud.

He said chaotic manual processes were a major impediment to business with registration and transfer of land taking over 49 days while approvals for construction projects in Nairobi took longer with some investors waiting for up to a year.

Property agent and director of Link Property Services, Wilberforce Owino, told Home & Away it is possible to discard the analogue way of doing things.

“The shift to digital is opposed by crooks who do not want the traceability of transactions where at every turn you leave evidence of what you were up to,” he said.

Muraguri said software developers need to partner with the sector to come up with ways of packing land buying and selling on an e-platform where shoppers can access property information easily. 

“This has been the government’s clarion agenda in policy. We have been engaging the information technology wing of our Cabinet to help us bring stakeholders around to adopting this call,” Muraguri said.

He added that the government has been moving on with its agenda of digitising land records and clients can now search for property details and pay stamp duty online.

“For the process to go full cycle, we have to digitise all text and map records, create the entire necessary portal infrastructure and interlink them with all players in property deals,” the PS said.

“A lands information management system is nearing reality. We have software developers at work to set up and operationalise the platform. Once activated, all land deals will be conducted on an online platform from anywhere, via a website or a mobile App portal that provides a front office customer and a back end interface.”

 He said the upgrading will include a file tracking system, an electronic document management system (EDMS), a custom workflow management system for all functional areas from property registration, endorsement and assessment, land rent management and accounting.

 “It should enable users to securely administer, value, report as well as bulk process land registration instruments, data conversion and have an extraction module that is integrated to the revenue systems in creative and innovative ways,” he added.

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