Kenya’s property portfolio must be digitised quickly


Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of digitising and computerising our land records and processes. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Data on the Ministry of Land and Physical Planning website reveals that Kenya’s registered properties now stand at over ten million.

Even a modest approximate value of a million shillings each quickly tells us that our property portfolio runs into trillions of Kenya shillings currently.

And with continued efforts to complete our national cadastre, this will only grow. These mega figures should turn the heads of bigwigs at the Treasury and security ministries. The figures should compel Parliament to pay great attention to land sector programmes and budgets. Why?

Think about destruction or loss of the records and see what panic this would occasion within the country.

Ten million records tells us that with perhaps about three or more people having interest in each record, over half of our population would be hamstrung, not able to prove their interests.

It would be a security nightmare. There would be business chaos. Then the land use on each of these millions of parcels, which collectively run into millions of hectares, impacts our economy.

If we can’t monitor and control it, then we can’t take good charge of our economic growth and food security. This should be any economist’s nightmare.

When you turn to matters land administration, the figures humble. For illustration, throw the titles equally into our about fifty land registries spread out countrywide.

You notice that you will be looking at about 200,000 titles per land registry. Even a most willing clerk or officer will find it daunting to conduct a manual search through such a ‘sea’ of records. Or retrieve their corresponding files.

Quick arithmetic reveals that even a quick flip through the thousands of records requires days. The reality though is that some registries, particularly the head office, may hold comparatively more records.

Therefore manual retrievals must be painfully slow, running into hours. Loss and misplacements therefore become routine.

It is work no one would love doing. That is partly why it attracts routine rent seeking.

Therefore news that the digitisation of records in the headquarters and several other registries is ongoing is welcome. I recall reading that the National Intelligence Service is lending a hand in the exercise. This is good prioritising, given the security mess that would face this country if we lost our property base.

Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of digitising and computerising our land records and processes any more. Citizens haven’t forgotten the buzz from previous Land ministers, which runs back to 2003, about computerisation in the ministry.

Yet nearly two decades later, manual records and processes still reign. And therefore the departments that maintain our cadastral survey maps and our land registers must bear with circumstances where the State invites anyone with serious intent and commitment to guide the modernisation of our land records.

In developing new digital sub-systems, let there be care to ensure that they will be sustainable and accessible by regular users. Let thought be given to their security so that we minimise threats from impulsive hackers too. The comprehensive system should aim at ensuring effective linkages between the land ownership records held in our land registries with the corresponding cadastral maps held by Survey of Kenya, and allow for automatic updates when changes in either occur. Good back checks in the Ministry will reveal the existence of task force and land information expert reports detailing the key issues to be minded when establishing such a system, some complete with road maps on how to develop it in phases as desirable.

Let us no longer be intimidated by the magnitude of the task, or the fear of holding our maps and land ownership records in e-form. If we’ve digitised our financial and banking systems to allow for depositing and withdrawing money online, why not land?

The writer is Chairman, Land Development and Governance.