Sorting one square inch at a time

Sorting one square inch at a time

MASERU – FORMED in 2011, the Land Administration Authority (LAA) is probably one of the most misunderstood organisations in the country. Not that its mandate is opaque or that it has not explained itself clearly. It’s just that some perceptions, borne out of ignorance, have refused to wash away. Take, for instance, the persistent misconception perception that the LAA allocates land. Or the ease with which people quickly blame the LAA when a land transaction goes sour. Things are slowly changing, though, as more people begin to understand why the LAA was established.

Those who have been assisted by the LAA say it’s far more efficient and transparent than the department it replaced. This week thepost’s Lemohang Rakotsoane had a long chat with LAA director general and chief executive Mahashe Chaka over a wide range of issues. She started by asking him about the purpose of the LAA’s recent meeting with a World Bank team?

The World Bank’s land sector team was here to see results of the land reform Lesotho implemented under the first compact of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The first compact of the MCC had a land administration reform project. The MCC tasked the World Bank to look at the land sector and the progress achieved by the first compact. The team looked at the impact of the land administration reform on the lives of the people.

What did they find?

Lesotho is a beacon in Africa in that the land reform was followed by an institutional reform which is LAA. Countries like Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania are trying to get funding from MCC. One of the conditions is that they have to get their land sector right. We also had a few moments with a chief executive of a local commercial bank who gave an outlook of the overall banking sector.
He mentioned that since the establishment of LAA the lending book of the banking sector had increased in terms of mortgages as people submit their land as collateral through registered title deed which is a lease.

What have been the successes of the initiative thus far?

From the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report you can see Lesotho’s rankings in terms of registering property. We are still topping other countries in SADC. Our meeting also discussed our dispute resolution mechanisms which are clear. As LAA we mediate and conciliate.
We mediate and issue a form that is used as the basis when they go to the land courts or the High Court. We also focus on vulnerable groups and women. The enforcement of women’s land holding rights is now sitting at 74 percent as a result of the LAA enforcing the existing laws.
It used to be a problem for women to hold land rights despite the fact that we passed a law that recognised women land rights in 2006. That law applied retrospectively. That is an important point because laws are rarely applied retrospectively.

The LAA replaced a government department. How difficult was it to manage the relationship during the take-over?

Divorce is messy and this one was no different. The issue was that the Lands Surveys and Physical Planning (LSPP) would wait for you to transact and then tell you the laws after.  And that was tricky because unless you had an issue with your lease or you were transacting you would not know the laws that affected you.

They would not even enforce laws, especially the one that deals with women’s right to own land.
What is the next step on the LAA’s agenda?

We have to integrate our processes to make them as high-tech as possible. We can no longer afford to have a lot of paper work as there are storage issues.  Putting things in a digital format requires funding and we are already working on one such project. Soon we will launch our land identification system whereby all land records will be kept under one number.

This will enable the public to digitally interact with the authority. We hope it will boost the economy because foreign investors will be able to look at how to do business in terms of land activities. They don’t need to come here to check.
We are working with the ministry and our councils. This will also go a long way because they will be able to send their work digitally to us and we keep those records. We are currently talking to utility institutions, especially the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA).
Spatial Data like where the electricity lines, tunnels and sewer lines are laid need to be kept digitally for all developers. This will enable the local councils to know where everything is when they develop infrastructure. All councils need to have a development plan that clearly shows where clinics, cemetery and schools will be.

How difficult was it to consolidate all this information?

As one of the first employees of the authority I experienced the difficulty first hand. When we were here together with our counterparts in the department of LSSP it was the most difficult thing to do in terms of human resources. Remember work has to be done by human resource first.
I was responsible for getting the workforce and negotiating with others to leave. It was very difficult. First we had to concentrate on creating a conducive working environment. Government had said some LSPP employees would be moved to offices in other ministries.

It had also pledged to create the LAA as an institution to get the reform in place here. We had to build relations so people understand this is for the good of the country. One of the operational challenges was that our land tenure security system is lease hold.
You have to appreciate the difference between the lease hold and free hold because that’s fundamental. The Constitution says all land in Lesotho belongs to Basotho and is held in trust by the king. That is the premise of our land and it has been there since 1906.

How huge is the number of land dispute cases?

We cannot quantify it as we only know when they come for mediation. Remember there are different types of disputes. The common one is the dispute of right but there are also disputes of inheritance and boundaries.
People like moving their boundaries even when they know very well where their plots end. With the dispute of right it continues and we don’t know the quantification because some people refuse to come for mediation.

We get reports on cases done by the courts but those are only criminal activities. Where it is dispute of right, boundary and inheritance but there is no criminal activity we do not get the reports. We only know what we have mediated but it is not a true reflection of the whole picture.
We are a land records institution. A land record starts with a land survey which is usually referred to as a Cadastral which refers to boundaries. Coordinates of the polygons come as a result of formal land survey.
The survey generates a number from the Cadastral Registry. The parcel of a land is identified by a number. People always believe that when you come to LAA you can mention your name.

They fail to understand that the records are kept in accordance with the Cadastral number which is followed by the plot number that is kept by the Cadastral Registry. The problem is that the LSPP didn’t do a good job in keeping those records in chronological order.

To get the land records in a chronological order was a big task. We have since made the LAA a service oriented organisation. We have reduced the number of days it takes to register a property and get a lease. These are proven milestones the LAA has achieved.
We have managed to know in terms of our leasehold system where every lease holder is liable to pay ground rent. All commercial companies pay ground rent and residential people apply for an exemption in their primary residence ONLY.

You are liable to pay ground rent depending on the use of your land and land rights.

What other challenges did the LAA face in trying to sort out problems by the old order?

Back then no one used to issue people with bills. Our counterparts did not issue bills. When you came to transact they told you your bill from the very first day you acquired a lease and it was a hefty bill. The biggest change is that we now issue bills annually to those who are supposed to pay ground rent.
The business community has complied and is able to budget unlike in the past where they used to be in a lot of arrears. And they had to budget so as to clear the arrears and they have done well.
Another challenge was that some people had paid and had the receipts but in our records they were not cleared and most customers proved us wrong.

What causes multiple land ownership and how do you deal with it?

That is caused by the lack of record keeping by the allocating authorities. LAA does not allocate land, the allocating authorities and the councils are responsible but they do not keep proper records.
As a result, they sometimes give one piece of land to anyone who comes. There is also no proper handover between staff. The most evident is the affidavit by the chief.

It is a problem because chiefs do not keep those records and there is no succession of work done by the chief and his son or wife.
That is why they allocate multiple people to a single piece of land and those are the land troubles that continue to happen up to this day. How do we deal with it?

Once a plot has been allocated and those rights are registered it means that it will be surveyed. That is where we get rid of those problems because by the time you come you will find that we have already assigned that plot a particular number.
Those land rights have to be surveyed by practising land surveyors who give it a particular plot number. If there is an existing number on that plot you will be told and therefore cannot be issued a second number.

The coordinates of a plot cannot be replicated all over the world because we use the same satellite throughout the world. The only problem that comes out of that is human error that is on the side of the authorities. After doing the land survey they do not update the digital Cadastral database.
If you do not update that after the survey it means that the plot number is not on the digital Cadastral database and on face value it looks vacant.

Do you think that we can correct Lesotho in terms of planning?

Yes we can. We already have an enabling legislation and it is clear, the Town and Country Planning Act 1980.
We also have assistant physical planners at the councils and they have to assist with physical planning, so we need to have the development plans per council. As long as we can get our civil servants to work, we can achieve that.

Staff Reporter

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