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Covid-19 has pushed land sector into digital era

Land is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of life for it is a natural resource we can’t live without.

Surprisingly, most land wrangles have been attributed to inaccessibility of basic land information, and the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has turned the situation worse.

Until a couple of years ago, the land sector in Uganda was arguably the least-digitized, with almost all processes and procedures involving physical interactions. That is why most district land offices would be crowded all the time, sometimes resulting into clients being defrauded.

But now the coronavirus has forced everyone to think outside the box and provide services in a safe and convenient environment. Now, more than ever, we need to talk about digital land services.

It is very commendable that the central government had embarked on a countrywide computerisation project of installing Land Management Systems (LMS) at all ministerial zonal offices. The same is expected of all players in this sector.

Beyond installing modern IT systems, networks and software, we need to focus on the key points of interaction between land-related organisations and timely feedback for clients.

Since the invention of the internet, most organisations have been undergoing digitization at different levels including some of their key processes. No sector has been spared in this regard, be it agriculture or health. The business community has gone further to opt for e-commerce – the buying and selling of goods and services, or the transmission of funds or data, over an electronic network, primarily the internet.

The ministry of Lands has taken steps towards the digitization of the land registry through the introduction of the Land Management System. According to Geofrey Kasumba, a Knowledge Management and Learning Specialist, Consultant and Team Leader @IproConsults Uganda, the LMS aims at minimizing land-related conflicts in the country, forgery of land titles and the red-tape in searching for land information, among others.

Other key players in the sector have also taken steps to increase digitisation in the sector. For example, Buganda Land Board introduced the Land Management Information System (LMIS). Although both systems have improved service delivery in these two respective organisations, we need to extend our focus to areas of interaction with clients.

On average, at least half of daily land-related transactions are illegal since they don’t take into account some of the key aspects of the Land Act such as seeking consent for a transaction from the landlord.

This is especially true for bibanja holders where more than 75 per cent of such transactions can be challenged in court. Many people have bought titled land but the tiles remain in the names of the previous owners; this leaves the buyer at the mercy of the registered owner.

Most of the land-related challenges are going to be exacerbated as an effect of Covid-19, with irregular working hours, challenges in transport, curfews, etc. We, therefore, need to create avenues for clients in the land sector to access professional services in a timely and remote way.

Land actors need to develop integrated client management systems that enable clients to access all land information at a single point, no matter the tenure. This should be integrated with inbuilt auto reference systems that redirect client enquiries to the most appropriate offices, be it legal service providers or the ministry of Lands.

Clients should be able to submit transfer forms remotely, make payments and access all related services without the need for physical interactions. For instance, the move by Buganda Land Board to introduce a 24-hour live WhatsApp chatroom that caters for all clients on Kabaka’s land including those in different time zones is very welcome.

On top of this, all payments can be done electronically using mobile money while other land-related services can be got online. There may be room for improvement, but this is the right way to go.

Many civil society organisations like Transparency International Uganda, ActionAid Uganda and others have done a good job in advocating for land rights; however, they need to directly engage the key players in the land sector and ensure that no effort is spared in extending land services to all communities in a safe, convenient and cost-effective way.

This is through the extension of digital land services and making them user-friendly. Since land is the most fundamental resource, securing it is paramount. The first step to ensuring security is through access to proper land information. 

mulindwa@bugandalandboard.or.ug

The author is a market research and sensitization officer at Buganda Land Board

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