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No need to close land registries as we seek to go digital

By Abdulkadir Khalif | March 22nd 2020

The closure of Nairobi and central land registries took effect on February 24. The closure of land registries has been a regular phenomenon for the last seven years. Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney gave reasons for closure including auditing files and digitisation of records.

The registries have been plagued by corruption including hiding of files for gain, interference with information and fraudulent creation of multiple records for same parcels of land. It is necessary for government and any enterprise to have an inventory of all resources, and such efforts should be regular as a matter of policy.

The Nairobi and central registries hold records on public land as well as private leasehold land of all counties. While deed files may have been relocated to some counties, all parcel files of leasehold land are still held in Ardhi House, and are updated after every transaction; interference with them are therefore detrimental to the integrity of the titles held on them.

On computerisation or digitisation as it is sometimes called, I feel the ministry either does not know what that process entails, or is deliberately misleading us. Digitisation is converting text and pictures into a digital format that can be stored into a computer, for analysis, display, querying and generation of reports. Paper records can be converted into digital forms through either raster or vector data formats. The difference is that while raster data format is the scanning of text and graphic images for archiving in a computer, vector data formats are mathematically created and maintain true shapes and sizes of images created.

While raster format is efficient and convenient for data storage and archiving, and are perfect as a backup for physical files, they are not efficient or useful for dynamic processing, editing, manipulation and report generation.

This explains why there is no end to the Ministry’s quest for continuous digitisation and periodic closures of registries with all its consequences. On the other hand, vector digitisation is an expensive, time consuming but accurate process which once completed successfully will be a permanent solution. Success can only be achieved through a multi-agency collaborative initiative that can be completed in stages over several years.

Kenya needs a robust National Land Information Management System (NLIMS) which is an efficient computer based data base that would inform users about parcels of land under scrutiny, their location, shapes, ownership details and encumbrances placed on them.

It is a computerised replica of the land register. A good system should identify double allocations of land, overlaps or gaps between adjoining parcels, parcels that have been grabbed or used as collateral at the click of the bottom. This is only attainable when we link the attribute database of all parcels to the active GIS maps of the parcels. Without that, we will continue to close down registries periodically to update paper records.

Section 5(2) (d) of NLC Act which mandated the commission with the creating and managing a National Land Information System (NLIMS) was repealed in 2016 and that function returned to the ministry.

But before that happened, NLC had established necessary infrastructure for development and maintenance of NLIMS. The pilot phase of the completed system was launched by then Lands CS Jacob Kaimenyi on May 31, 2016.

The ministry instead started a programme of its own to establish a parallel system. It is unfortunate that the Treasury finds it appropriate to pump money into the Ministry for projects already done.

As we strive for a reliable system of land administration, private, and community land will continue to be lost to speculators positioning themselves along infrastructure routes, land cartels dispossessing vulnerable individuals and minorities in leasehold neighbourhoods like Westlands and Parklands, and the public will continue to loose huge amounts of money compensating illegally acquired public and community lands.

We are at least 20 years behind our neighbours whose systems our experts helped create, and to who we sometimes go to for benchmarking. Apart from what NLC has established more than four years ago, and which I believe is underutilised, I don’t believe the ministry will develop a robust and reliable NLIMS soon.

I fear that the procedures being employed at Ardhi House do not give confidence that adequate human and technological resources have been dedicated to a system we hope will propel us to the level of our neighbours.

- The writer is a licensed land surveyor and a former commissioner of National Land Commission. [email protected]

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