UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | In 2013, the government embarked on a journey to implement a digital land registry system, which had been in existence for over a century.
With only 20 per cent of the country’s land officially registered at the time, the Ministry of Lands sought to increase transparency and reduce fraud in land transactions by adopting a digital format.
The project, financed by the World Bank’s Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project, aimed to create a comprehensive Land Information System.
However, ten years later, the effectiveness of the digital land registry system is being called into question.
The Rollout and Expectations
The transition to the digital land registry system required the Ministry of Lands to close its operations for over three months between December 2012 and March 2013.
During this period, a French mapping company, IGN-France International, was contracted to develop the digital registration system.
The manual records from the Lands Ministry were digitised, laying the foundation for the Land Information System. The goal was to simplify the process of accessing land registry services, increase transparency, and reduce processing time.
Initially, there were high hopes that the new system would revolutionise land ownership procedures in Uganda.
Christopher Burke, an official from IGN-France International, stated that the processing time for land titles would be reduced from 14 days to just 10 minutes. This efficiency was expected to benefit landowners seeking loans, as banks would have access to reliable information on the Ministry of Lands website.
The Current State
However, industry practitioners now report that the digital land registry system has not lived up to expectations.
Innocent Arinawe, a real estate professional, shares that in his five years of experience, only a small portion of the process takes place online.
While forms can be downloaded from the Ministry of Lands website, the rest of the procedures are still conducted manually.
Arinawe emphasises that despite the announcement of a streamlined digital system, 99 per cent of the registration process remains unchanged.
One success story is that of Justine Namayanja, who participated in a World Bank Open Day Bazaar where the new Land Information System was showcased.
She was able to retrieve her land titles promptly, leading her to believe in the potential of the digital system.
However, such success stories are few and far between.
The Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development acknowledges that the digital system’s limited functionality is primarily due to legal barriers.
Currently, only a few processes are accessible online, such as form downloads, online searches, payment through mobile money, and obtaining plot maps.
The 1930 Land Act, which governs land transactions, does not provide for online processes. The ministry spokesperson, Denis Obbo, explains that the law needs to be amended to enable full online transactions.
The Regulatory Impact Assessment has been conducted, and the amendment is scheduled for the current financial year.
Critics argue that building the digital infrastructure without ensuring an enabling law was a significant oversight.
It has taken a decade since the system’s launch for the government to begin considering the necessary legislative changes.
Obbo emphasises that internally, processes between departments and different zonal offices are already conducted online.
However, external access and the full potential of the digital land registry system are hindered by legal constraints.
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