Opinion: Uganda’s national land information system leads in Africa

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By Christopher Burke

Uganda has taken full advantage of the latest advancements in geospatial technology and the country’s National Land Information System (NLIS) is one of the most modern and comprehensive land information systems available. find in Africa. The NLIS has now been operational for nine years and uses state-of-the-art features that have significantly improved security and brought improvements to service delivery. Last month, Lands Minister Judith Nabakooba launched the NLIS public portal which allows members of the public to search online after paying a fee of ten thousand shillings for each search.

Land management systems require time and investment. There is a need for legislation, infrastructure and human resource capacity to operate and maintain such a project. Uganda’s NLIS is the result of consistent work and planning that goes back over 25 years. Early preparations began with a number of specific provisions in the 1995 Constitution which included the Lands Act.

The 1998 land law aimed to facilitate the decentralization of land administration and management which required a massive bureaucratic structure which proved difficult to implement. The 10 year Land Sector Strategic Plan (LSSP) addressed many of the challenges identified at that time strategies to review Uganda’s policy and legal framework, strengthen the protection and rights of vulnerable groups, decentralization of land administration support, modernize the cadastre to improve land services, provide public information on land rights and develop a national land policy.

The pilot phase of the NLIS was implemented from 2010 to 2013 by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urbanism (MLHUD) with the support of the French company IGN FI and funds provided by the World Bank in accordance with the LSSP . Known as the Design, Supply, Install, Implement Land Information System and Securing Land Records (DeSILISoR) project, the project embarked on the development of the Land Information System (LIS) using a high resolution orthophoto or a geometrically corrected base map. . It also involved the digital conversion of over 550,000 freehold, leasehold and courier titles, the integration of these digitized titles into the system, the establishment of six Ministry Area Offices (MZOs) and the training of the personnel to operate and maintain the system.

In 2013, the government launched the Land Sector Strategic Plan II (LSSPII) 2013-2023 to: 1) restore the integrity of Uganda’s land registration system, 2) modernize and improve the capacity of the land sector to provide services aligned with the needs of the economic, 3) put in place a modern land information and registration system, 4) develop the institutional capacity and human capital necessary to ensure inclusive access, equity and social justice, 5) decentralize land services closer to the people, and 6) remove constraints to the competitiveness of the Ugandan private sector to facilitate investment and contribute to national development.

Following the positive results of the pilot project, the NLIS was extended to the national roll-out of the system with the Design, Supply, Installation and Implementation of the National Land Information System Infrastructure (DeSINLISI) project under the LSSP II. Implemented between February 2015 and February 2020, this phase was also supported by a consortium led by IGN FI with support from the World Bank and involved the integration of land registration, land administration, surveying and mapping, physical planning, property valuation and finalizing the process of transforming land records into digital format. The vast majority of paper titles were computerized and verified in the system. Only titles with irregularities have been omitted.

The system has decentralized land governance with the establishment of 22 Ministerial Autonomous One Stop Shop (MZO) Zonal Offices across Uganda. The NLIS quickly demonstrated impact with increased land security, reduced corruption, improved service delivery and consolidated revenue.

Double tracking has been eliminated and the illicit falsification of titles has become extremely difficult. Paper documents can be lost or tampered with, but all NLIS information is indelibly recorded, including date, time, location and person responsible for adjustments. While this feature alone cannot prevent fraud, those involved can be held accountable and illegitimate actions can be corrected. Access to land registration information through the online portal represents a substantial improvement in transparency

A full cost-benefit analysis of the NLIS remains to be done in order to understand the full economic impact of the project. However, the initial results run counter to the usual challenges associated with the majority of capital projects. The NLIS was completed on schedule and had already generated more than enough revenue to be self-financing before its launch.

According to recent data from MLHUD, the NLIS has generated a cumulative total of $240 million in revenue since it went live in 2013 through the first half of fiscal year 2021/2022. This represents a 333% return on the total investment of US$72 million received as a loan from the World Bank. The NLIS cost $36 million and an additional $36 million was needed to cover the cost of supporting infrastructure including the base map, geodetic reference network, construction of the National Land Information Center (NLIC) and MZOs in addition to reviews and development of supporting legislation. The NLIS has proven to be a remarkable success and stands in stark contrast to other public investments across Africa in road, rail and power projects which suffer from protracted delays, cost overruns and minimal returns on investment.

The system is of course not without its challenges. Training and capacity building of the necessary human resources is ongoing. Work continues to be updated and aligned with relevant legislation, including the Electronic Transactions Act and the Electronic Signature Act. Other related laws including the Surveys and Mapping Bill, the Title Registration Bill and the proposed new Land Assessment Bill are currently being adjusted. Plans are also in advanced stages to further integrate the NLIS with other government agencies and departments.

The NLIS only applies to registered land that represents less than 20% of all land in the country. MLHUD is about to launch the second phase of a program of systematic land demarcation and issuance of freehold titles and Customary Ownership Certificates (CCOs) in different parts of Uganda with the support of the EU and World Bank that will help populate the NLIS.

Uganda is now considered a leader in land governance in Africa. Over the past decade, a steady stream of delegations from Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Mozambique, Zambia, Mali, Ethiopia, Malawi and the Ivory Coast have visited the country during reference tours. In 2016, the Tanzanian government launched the pilot phase of the Integrated Land Management Information System (ILMIS) which closely resembled the Ugandan NLIS in form and function.

The NLIS has made a strong contribution to the development of the Ugandan economy and the achievement of multiple social and development goals (SDGs) and the achievement of the government’s Vision 2040.

Christopher Burke is the managing director of WMC Africa, a communications and consultancy agency in Kampala, Uganda.

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