Sustaining progress: Modernizing land registration a 'marathon' not a 'sprint'

A plot of land in Jamaica, where the country’s National Land Agency has helped secure the land rights of thousands of its citizens. Photo by: Laura Raccio / UNDP Jamaica / CC BY-NC-ND

Last October, I visited an important Thomson Reuters customer, the Jamaican National Land Agency and was hosted by Elizabeth Stair, the agency’s CEO. I had traveled to the island to better familiarize myself with how the Jamaican NLA had delivered on a successful and sustained modernization program. Thomson Reuters has supported the Jamaican NLA for more than 10 years now with land and property information systems, so I wanted to hear their story directly.

Theirs is a story of how one agency was able to successfully modernize its operations with funding and support from the international development community. In this case, Jamaica received support from the World Bank.

In the early 2000s, the Jamaican NLA had just inherited various government departments with different operating practices and cultures. NLA sought to improve its service orientation to be more responsive and customer-friendly for constituents, such as citizens registering land titles; or for stakeholders, such as real estate companies conducting title searches or banks registering mortgages. The NLA was also charged with providing improved services for internal government agencies, such as in managing all crown lands (which represents about 5 percent of all the land parcels).

A critical issue in Jamaica, as in many other developing nations, is that many people still do not have a formal title to the land that they occupy. Informal settlements, and the absence of clear title for many citizens, has been a challenge to achieving inclusive wealth generation and shared economic prosperity. This is not just a problem for Jamaicans — it’s an issue that impacts societies around the world as the process of registering land is too expensive or cumbersome with little perceived security of tenure. Last week’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty in Washington, D.C., which attracted more than 1,200 government officials from 123 countries, is a testament to the importance of this topic on the international development agenda.

Yet for more than a decade in Jamaica, they have made steady year-on-year progress in resolving this issue. Look at some of these key performance indicators as an example:

Operational indicators:

116,271: The total number of titles issued from 2004.
5 percent: Increase from 2009 in the cumulative number of parcels on the island that are formally registered (an increase from 52 percent to 57 percent).
21,808: New “first registration” titles issued from 2004.

Performance indicators:

24,683: Number of people who have attended public education workshops on why registering lands is important.
97 percent: The percent of new titles that are now processed within 30 days.

Revenue indicators:

$4,576,200: Increase in annual operating revenue from 2004, up 135 percent.
27: The number of new services or products launched since 2004, for example online public facing map-based search tools.

The NLA’s success can be attributed to a number of factors. It focused first on strengthening the organization’s own human resource capacity to better face the public. It broke down operational silos and centralized leadership, including introducing profit and loss responsibility. It created business plans and worked to improve customer service with measurable KPIs, and comprehensive change management programs. It invested heavily in training its people, including sponsoring staff to attain internationally recognized professional accreditations. Importantly, it communicated its goals and objectives with the public and with stakeholder groups — both internal and external.

The Jamaican NLA also strategically deployed technology, such as Thomson Reuters solutions, to modernize the registry process and make it both easier and more affordable for people to register lands. Importantly, it had a strategic plan to sustain its technology infrastructure through fair and transparent registration fees and efficiency improvements borne of the technology. It also scaled the technology to support other departments and introduced value-add services to the public, such as making land records accessible through online portals.

What remains clear to me during the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty is that we need to ensure the successes of Jamaica are heard by other governments around the world. Too often I see a short-term focus on rushed implementations, rather than a long-term strategic view of how an agency really needs to modernize its operations for sustained success. It’s not a one, two, or five-year cycle. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s a modernization journey.

The good news is that a combination of business planning, capacity enhancement, transparent communications and technical savvy — led by a visionary leader such as CEO Elizabeth Stair — can lead to sustainable results. The Jamaicans are proving that to be true.

To read additional content on land and property rights, go to Focus On: Land Matters in partnership with Thomson Reuters.

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About the author

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    Donald Peele

    Donald Peele is the vice president for international operations at Thomson Reuters. He oversees the development and implementation of land information and tax automation solutions used by governments.

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