Conference themes

1. Land Governance for the 21st Century (GOV)

Land sector institutions are numerous and realization of desirable outcomes depends on a wide variety of actors. It is for this reason that land governance, i.e. the framework of implicit and explicit rules that govern behaviour in this sector, are of great importance. Land governance specifically relates to the legal and institutional framework, the way in which land use planning, management, and taxation are handled, the state's accountability for acquiring, managing, and disposing of public land, the effective, and sustainable provision of reliable information regarding land ownership and any limits to such ownership, and the presence of impartial and transparent bodies to resolve disputes and manage conflict. All of these are key to ensure control and management of physical space and the economic as well as social outcomes emerging from it.

Good governance of the land sector will be essential to deal with the inter-linked challenges of the new millennium such as climate change; rising prices of commodities and food; management of natural disasters, and population growth and attendant urbanization and environmental degradation. All of these include an explicit spatial element and defy segmented and partial approaches. While modern surveying and mapping tools are an essential part of good land governance, the technical complexity of these should not conceal the fact that they are a means towards the broader end of establish an incentive structure that will govern actions by those involved in the field.

The conference will discuss how stakeholders from different disciplines can most effectively collaborate to improve governance of the land sector in specific cases and to establish ways that would allow countries to quickly identify gaps and develop well-prioritized and sequenced ways of dealing with these. This will include discussion of the way in which a well-governed land sector can contribute to addressing today?s broader challenges, and examples of specific cases of improving land governance and the impacts this has had.

2. Building Sustainable, Well-Governed Land Administration Systems (SYS)

Land Administration Systems provide the infrastructure for implementation of land polices and land management strategies in support of sustainable development. The infrastructure includes institutional arrangements, legal frameworks, processes, standards, land information, management and dissemination systems, and technologies required to support allocation, land markets, valuation and control of use and development of interests in land. The way these systems function, their costs, and their governance have enormous implications for the ability of the poor to receive land administration services, to engage in land markets and to use property assets most effectively.

Land Administration Systems are the basis for conceptualising rights, restrictions and responsibilities (RRR) related to policies, places and people. Rights are normally concerned with ownership and tenure whereas restrictions usually control use and activities on land. Responsibilities relate more to a social, ethical commitment or attitude to environmental sustainability and good husbandry. RRR must be designed to suit individual needs of each country or jurisdiction, and must be balanced between different levels of government, from local to national. This theme will focus on how different jurisdictions are building these systems in ways which are sustainable, well-governed and inclusive and how such systems can best help to achieve the MDG’s.

Public administration of land, including the management of state lands, has a high potential for abuse. In many countries, corruption and abuse of power have resulted in the undermining of tenure security. As a consequence this has adversely impacted the business climate and economic activities due to increased costs of doing business, lack of confidence of the private sector, and under-utilization of land. At the same time, high costs and inefficient and prolonged procedures due to corrupted land registration systems discourage people to register their land, and encourage them to operate within the informal land market sectors. This also impacts land tax revenue, and reduces government spending on the provision of public services and infrastructure (Keith Bell, Hong Kong, 2007).

Although there is not a universally agreed definition of corruption, UN/Habitat defines corruption as 'the misuse of office for private gain' (UN/Habitat, 2004). Some common forms of corruption are: Bribery (’abuse of discretion in favour of a third party in exchange of benefits given by the third party’); Fraud (’abuse of discretion for private gain without third parties involvement’); Favouritism, Nepotism and Clientelism (’abuse of discretion not for self-interest but for the interest of family, clan, political party, ethnic group etc. Corruption has the most devastating effects in developing countries because it hinders any advance in economic growth and democracy. This conference theme will address new experiences with improving land administration systems to make them sustainable, and well-governed.

3. Securing social tenure for the poorest (TNR)

The cadastre is at the core of any LAS providing spatial integrity and unique identification of every land parcel. However, traditional cadastral systems cannot supply security of tenure to the vast majority of the low income groups and/or deal quickly enough with the scale of urban problems. Innovative approaches need to be developed, and promising experiences shared widely. One solution to this problem may be found in the so called Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) originally developed as the Core Cadastral Domain Model (CCDM).

A prototype for such a STDM should be developed as a tool to deal with the kind of social tenure that exist in informal settlements (and also in areas based on customary tenure) that cannot be accommodated in traditional cadastral systems. Traditional cadastral and land registration systems deal with identification of properties and land parcels as a basis for securing legal rights such as title, leasehold, and easements. The STDM attempts to be able to deal more generally with the relation between objects, subjects, and the social tenure that is established between the object and subject. The object may be a parcel, property, construction work, natural asset, 3-D object, etc. The subject may be a physical or legal person, a group of people or a group of groups, etc. The social tenure may include all kind of rights, restrictions and responsibilities. Such a system, provided as open source software, should be available as a tool for managing the range of tenures found in informal settlement and be manageable for the local communities as well as public authorities. Experiences and approaches to making these kinds of models work can directly contribute to the MDG achieving significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.

4. Making land markets work for all (MKT)

Compared with land rentals, sales markets for acquiring ownership increase investment incentives and provide a basis for using land as collateral in credit markets. But imperfections in other markets, and expectations of future land price increases, affect the functioning of land sales markets more than that of rentals, implying that they would not necessarily transfer land to the most productive producers. Thus, historically, most land sales by the poor were due to distress that required defaulting landowners to cede control of their land to moneylenders, who amassed huge amounts of lands. However, these circumstances may have changed over time. Data on land sales over 20 years in India illustrate some of the peculiar features of land sales markets: First, they transferred land to better cultivators and from land-abundant to land-scarce households, allowing the land-scarce to improve their welfare without making sellers worse off. Sales markets were indeed thinner, more affected by life-cycle events, and less redistributive than those for rentals. Especially, climatic shocks increased the probability of land sales, but this effect was mitigated by local safety nets (employment guarantees) and access to credit from banks. In sum, within the given institutional environment, land sales and purchases did more than redistributive land reforms to equalize land ownership. This implies that efforts at redistributive land reform will need to aim at complementing what is being achieved by market forces rather than to substitute for them.

The above implies that often there is little justification for policy measures to restrict land sales which often drive land sales underground and undermine access to formal credit. If there is an issue of asymmetries in power, access to insurance, and information leading to undesirable land market outcomes or speculative land accumulation, safety nets and other measures, including ways of redistributing land, will be more appropriate to prevent distress sales. Moreover reasonable land taxes can curb speculative demand and encourage better land use, while providing revenue for local governments to fulfil their functions. The functioning of land sales markets will also be negatively affected if, in case they need to repossess land, creditors will have to call on the courts. While costly in the best of circumstances, this will be even more difficult in an environment where courts lack impartiality or, due to overload, are unable to provide decisions quickly.

A key reason for land sales to be driven into informality which can over time threaten the integrity of the registry information is individuals’ desire to avoid high levels of taxation, mainly in the form of stamp duties, or the need to make informal payments. In addition to setting clear fee structures that are well-publicized, reduction of stamp duties, possibly by replacing them with a land tax, to be assessed at the local level, would be desirable. Such a tax, complemented by a capital gains tax if necessary, could encourage productive land use and reduce incentives for speculative land accumulation, thus making productivity-enhancing outcomes from land sales markets more likely and also put land into a broader framework of local governance where funds are available to finance local infrastructure which in turn will be capitalized in increased land values.

5. Improving Access to Land and Shelter (ACC)

Secure and unambiguous property rights are critical to temporarily or permanently transfer land to more productive uses and users. Numerous studies have shown that, as it is normally those with better opportunities who transfer land, this will provide benefits to the land-poor producers who are able to access additional productive resources.

Yet land markets, or formalization of existing land rights, in spite of their great flexibility and usefulness to the poor, are not a panacea for addressing structural inequalities in countries with highly unequal land ownership which reduce productivity of land use and hold back development. To overcome the legacy of such inequality, ways of redistributing assets such as land reform will be needed. While the post-war experiences of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, China show that land reform can improve equity and economic performance, many other cases where land reform could not be fully implemented or even had negative consequences illustrate the difficulties involved. If, within a broader strategy at poverty reduction, redistributive land reform is found to be more cost-effective in overcoming structural inequalities than alternatives, it needs to be complemented by access to managerial ability, technology, credit, and markets for the new owners to become competitive. Experience in South Africa and Brazil demonstrates that unconventional avenues (e.g. partnerships and joint ventures with old land owners) may be a useful first step. A possible alternative, the impact of which needs to be explored more systematically, is the distribution of small house and garden plots to the destitute to increase their food security and social status while at the same time allowing them to climb at least the first rung on the property rights ladder.

There are also many situations where those who have received land rights in the past, either through programs of land reform or through regularization, are unable to enjoying the full benefits because they have not received full ownership rights or because transferability of their rights was restricted, in some cases for political reasons. As the ensuring second generation problems can threaten to undermine earlier successes, it will be important to provide full ownership rights to those affected, if need be by identifying innovative approaches, e.g. a credit-financed purchase of residual ownership rights by one of the parties involved.

6. Land governance for rapid urbanization (URB)

The year 2007 was the year where the globe became urban. More people are now living in the cities than in rural areas – while in 1950 it was less than 30%. Today it is more than 50% that is more than 3.3 billion people and one third of them are living in slums. Also in 1950 there was only one mega city (New York) with more than 10 million inhabitants. Today the number of megacities is about 20 some them with more than 20 million inhabitants such as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Lagos, Mumbai and Tokyo. And over this century we will see cities of more than 50 million people. The challenge is to deal with the social, economic and environment consequences of this development – such as the resulting climate change, insecurity, energy scarcity, environmental pollution, infrastructure chaos, and extreme poverty.

Informal urban development may occur in various forms such as informal subdivisions and illegal construction works that do not comply with planning regulations such as zoning provisions. Informal development is different to informal settlements where vacant state-owned or private land is occupied illegally and used for illegal slum housing. Informal development is common also in many developed countries. There is no simple solution to the problem of preventing and legalising informal urban development. The problem relates mainly to the national level of economic wealth in combination with the level of social and economic equity in society, while the solutions relate to the level of consistent land policies, good governance, and well established institutions.

It is important to note, however, that where the problem of unauthorised developments occurs, the particular characteristics of the planning system may only play a minor part in explaining it. Factors outside the formal planning system will often play a determining role in its operation and effectiveness. Factors such as the historical relationship between citizens and government, attitudes towards land and property ownership, and implications of social and economics institutions in society will all play a part amongst other historical and cultural conditions.