hanstad1_ SHAMMI MEHRAAFP via Getty Images_India farmer Shammi Mehra/AFP via Getty Images

The Case for Open Land-Data Systems

In countries where accurate, accessible land records are not maintained, it is the marginalized and vulnerable who are the worst affected by corruption and covert land grabs. But the ongoing revolution in information and communications technology provides unprecedented opportunities to digitize land records and open them to all.

SEATTLE – Last month, a former Zimbabwean cabinet minister was arrested for illegally selling parcels of state land. A few days earlier, a Malaysian court convicted the ex-chairman of a state-owned land development agency of corruption. And in January, the Estonian government collapsed amid allegations of corrupt property dealings. These recent events all turned the spotlight on the growing but neglected threat of land-related corruption.

Such corruption can flourish in countries that are unprepared to manage the heightened demand for land that accompanies economic and population growth. Land governance in these countries – institutions, policies, rules, and records for managing land rights and use – is underdeveloped, which undermines the security of citizens’ land rights and enables covert land grabs by the well connected.

In Ghana, for example, the government keeps land records for only about 2% of currently operating farms; the ownership of the remainder is largely undocumented. In India, these records were, until recently, often kept in disorganized stacks in government offices.

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