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Sort, digitise land records during month-long break

A parcel of land in Nairobi's Kasarani Estate that is at the centre of a tussle between Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Uchumi Supermarkets
A parcel of land in Nairobi's Kasarani Estate that is at the centre of a tussle between Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Uchumi Supermarkets. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

When Land Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney tweeted to inform us that all Land offices and Registries countrywide would be closed for 28 days from March 17 following the corona menace, I retweeted, knowing its importance to the country. But in retweeting, I added: “Take advantage of the month-long break to catch up on backroom processes, particularly those related to the sorting out and digitising of records.” Though necessary, this pronouncement will occasion many professionals in land development, real estate and conveyancing major business setbacks. And the construction and real estate sectors will slow down.

This is the reason I am beginning to get impatient with our delay in putting in place a modern land information management system. We need to digitise all text and map records, create the necessary databases, interlink the maps with parcel ownership details and then computerise our technical processes. It’s not rocket science. But it takes commitment, consistency and hard work. It takes political goodwill, impatience with detractors and a ruthlessness determination to get it done. As for the resources, many partners have been ready to work with Kenya on this. And even without them, Kenya should be able to afford this initiative.

Lately, it has been possible to download official searches from one’s house or office. This is only possible for a very limited number of properties though. I have done so for a few. And mid-last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Business Laws Amendment Bill. This law amends, among others, the Survey, the Land Registration, the Registration of Documents, the Stamp Duty and the Kenya Information and Communications Acts.

Following the amendments, electronic documents, signatures, seals and stamps will be admissible during the processing and registration of land records as well as in courts. Ms Karoney also recently re-gazetted the ministry’s task force on electronic conveyancing, which will hopefully develop regulations to support electronic conveyancing, following its initial report. These are all very good incremental and complementary gains. But we must hasten our pace.

Between 2006 and 2009, I participated in consultancies that developed a clear road map and implementation plan for the computerisation of Kenya’s land records.

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Kenya anchored the requisite provisions for the system in our land policy and laws. Then we have senior officers in the ICT and Land ministries, and the National Land Commission, with management and technical know-how to oversee the required sub-processes. I also recall that the computerisation of land records was a key priority for the Jubilee government. And as if to demonstrate, the President himself visited Ardhi House twice in May 2014 to appraise himself with the then-ongoing clean-up of the land registry. For political goodwill, this is as high as it can go for a sector ministry.

We still have a lot of work to do in converting the bulk of our records to digital form. But since we have the concept, policy and law in place, let’s prioritise the required budgetary support and develop our system consistently. It will take time as happens elsewhere but we are now on track.

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