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Concerted efforts can eliminate land sector corruption

A Ministry of Lands office
A Ministry of Lands office. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Having noticed that the Land ministry is keen to address public complaints, let’s talk about corruption. It has become such a concern that it was the theme of the third bi-annual conference on land policy in Africa held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, under the African Land Policy Centre late last year.

Given experiences with land institutions locally, I attended to enrich discussions. But let me precede this with an anecdote that left me dumbstruck in this pleasant “land of Kings”. In our studies on land governance on the continent, we keep recounting that traditional authorities are critical institutions in the management of communal land. But to many of us, this has no practical feel since we hardly have any serious traditional authorities to learn from here.

But in Côte d’Ivoire, I came face-to-face with one. I quickly understood why governments have little choice but to work with them on matters land.

We took a drive to some far flung traditional kingdom away from Abidjan city. On arrival at our destination, a carnival mood overwhelmed as long queues of people walked and drove to some public grounds from all directions.

On parking, we were advised to walk along the side-paths since the King would soon use the road from his palace to the central public ground to address his people. And he did so in style, his kingly cot carried shoulder-high by a bevy of well-built men. Indeed, a sight to behold. We hastened to the sitting space. As we attempted to get to the front, our guide cautioned, “You know once the King sits, no one moves. You will have to stay till he leaves.

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So let’s stay far off so that we can fall out unnoticed when it’s time”. It all looked surreal. When I shared the images of the King’s retinue carrying him shoulder-high, people back here couldn’t figure it. But Kings and traditional chiefs in many parts of Africa are honoured and revered.

They are royalty and are respectfully obeyed without question. Traditional fiefdoms transcend generations. In large parts of Africa they allocate and manage communal land. They hold major sway over how local people and investors access and use it. That’s why traditional authorities had representation at the Abidjan land conference too.

My presentation there drew deeply from my experience in the state and non-state spaces that I’ve navigated over time. In its main thrust, I wished to highlight that embracing technology in the technical processes that support our land administration and management systems helps to mitigate corruption.

Why? Because it eliminates or reduces the direct interface between service seekers and providers! However, shrewd professionals can and do manipulate technology during data capture, processing, dissemination and storage.

It is possible to input data selectively and to delete it to favour preferred persons or self-interest.

It’s possible to feign that systems are down until one draws informal rent from service seekers, appearing to be going out of their way to do them special favours.

Those who have used systems in our Lands Ministry may have experienced some of this.

So we need to promote professional integrity of land professionals entrusted to drive the technical and management functions in our systems.

The Universities, professional associations, statutory bodies, anti-corruption agencies and government all have a role in this.

I argued that right from their training, the career paths of land professionals must be informed by interventions that grow and shape them to show fidelity to professional integrity in the management of land governance institutions.

Universities must inculcate professional ethics in graduates, while professional bodies should ensure that ethics and integrity are mainstreamed in modules offered to members at entry and for professional development.

Alongside, statutory bodies must be seen to regulate and punish malpractice, with prosecution of criminal professional conduct used as deterrent.

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