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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Ensuring land rights

As part of a recent World Bank gathering on land rights, Mrs. Elizabeth Stair, Chief Executive Officer of the National Land Agency of Jamaica, joined us for a brief discussion about her reasons for attending this increasingly important event.

Sustainability: This event at the World Bank is clearly growing in importance, with attendance at an all time high, and engagement from global companies, investment banks and government officials.  Can you tell me why you have come here?

Mrs. Stair:  This is about learning from each other at a time when land rights for the poor are increasingly at risk on a global scale.  We have come here to showcase what we are doing, as well as to learn what others are doing.   This includes best practices in land registration systems, land management systems, and processing times for establishing legal land ownership.  This might all sound a bit dry, but actually land ownership and efficient and transparent transfer of title is critical to a well functioning and just economy.

Sustainability:  Are the problems this event is addressing becoming more severe globally?

Mrs. Stair:   There is increasing demand for finite resources on a global scale.  This includes demand for land by investors and companies who may not be familiar to local governments and inhabitants.  Building and maintaining an efficient and transparent land ownership system is really a part of due process and fundamental rights for citizens.  My sense is that overall, the severity and complexity of these issues is increasing,  and that there is enormous new investment, opportunity for economic growth and potential for abuse emerging on a global scale.

Sustainability:  What are a couple points of specific advice you would give to reformers of land management and registration systems?

Mrs. Stair:   First ask yourself, do you have the buy in of your stakeholders: senior government leaders, the courts, land surveyors, lawyers, and real-estate professionals.  It’s very important to understand how each existing stakeholder uses and values the current system so that you can set expectations and build new capabilities together.

Sustainability: How should reformers think about the transition from a current, back-logged system to a new one?

Mrs. Stair:  First, look at the whole change management process.  One of the things we have been discussing is that you cannot modernize old processes; business process improvement must be done first.  You can’t rush into digitization, because if you rush in, you could end up modernizing a paper based, manual process which currently does not work. You must evaluate whether you need every single step as you now do it.   Second, I’d be very careful to pick a software and technology partner who has a track record of success, and who is likely to be around for the full duration of the implementation and deployment of a system.  We found that early on, everything did not work exactly as we had hoped.  When we started the agency, it took  3 months to transfer property; now we can do it in a day. You need a partner who will be hands on, and in the trenches to work through the early steps and hiccups.

Sustainability:  What do you hope this discussion looks like 10 years from now?

Mrs. Stair: We want to be a world leader in land management. In terms of equity, what the government wants is to make sure that as many people as possible can own a “piece of the rock”.  In Jamaica, we divest land to low, middle and high income inhabitants.  Becoming a land-owner in a transparent, efficient and fair system is crucial to good government, and we would like to be a world leader in how to develop and maintain this capability.

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Note: This interview was conducted by Tim Nixon, Managing Editor of Thomson Reuters Sustainability.

 

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