Real Estate Development 101: Automated and Consolidated Land Searches; A Step in the Right Direction

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Land administration in Ghana has over the years been inundated with many challenges. The incoherent and inconsistent land documentation and registration process, especially in the Greater Accra region had created many confusions and disputes in the past. In some instances it has led to bloody disputes including injuries and deaths.

Over the years, many efforts have been employed to improve land administration processes, reduce litigations, secure proper ownerships and add value to properties. These progress, although commendable, still left much to be desired.

It was therefore gratifying for the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources through the Lands Commission to announce a little over a month ago that from October 1, 2021, land administration searches were going to be automated and consolidated. Thus, the public was going to be able to apply for a land search, ascertain the ownership and documentation of lands through an online process which is more transparent, convenient and secured.

In today’s article, I will try to share my views on the new automated land search system and that of other key players who commented on the development in a publication by the Daily Guide Network. I believe that the views that we share will give a better perspective of how industry players are excited about this development and some recommendations on how best to improve them as time goes on.

First of all, let us understand what the Lands Commission’s new Policy said in the public notice it shared in the last week of September, 2021.

In summary, the Commission announced that “From 1st October 2021, the Lands Commission, thus the Greater Accra Region will no longer issue separate search reports from its divisions – Public and Vested Land Management Division (PVLMD), Land Registration Division (LRD) as well as Survey and Mapping Division (SMD).”

Under the new policy, records from these divisions will be consolidated into one Land Commission search report with all necessary information, the statement issued on Thursday, September 23, 2021 noted.

More so, from October 1, applications for searches should be submitted online through https://onlineservices.lc.gov.gh. The Commission’s Client Service Access Unit (CSAU) will assist clients to comply with the online application process. Applicants can also make payments through the same system and track their applications online until their report is ready.

For many of us in the Real Estate Industry and the larger Built Environment this was gratifying news and development. Although it may have taken longer to materialize, it was better late than never and a step in the right direction. In fact it is a game changer because this can revolutionize the entire land administration many years ahead.

It will also serve as a strong basis to further automate all other aspects of the land administration processes and expand to cover the entire country. It is a game changer indeed.

GREDA

I agree with my brother, Samuel Amegayibor, the Executive Secretary of the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) that wider consultations between the officials of Lands Commission and other stakeholders had paid off.

He observed that prior to the new automated process, stakeholders had been faced with many hindrances in the registration and land acquisition documentation processes due to the largely uncoordinated search process pertaining. He then made a key recommendation which the Commission must take seriously.

That “the online search application will take cognizance of the actual size of site plans that will be sent through; as the site must remain the same to be able to superimpose on existing site plans to conduct searches.”

In simple terms, the system should get to a point where site plans that come for searches can be placed on the master plans to determine all boundaries seamlessly. That way, it will also be easy to solve boundary disputes.

GAR

My colleague, Hanna Atiase, the Director of Training and Education at the Ghana Association of Real Estate Brokers (GAR) recounted the frustrations that one had to go through at the three different decisions during a search. These included having different search results completion times, paying different fees, several travels just to make follow-ups, enduring the traffic and long queues and the cost in completing the three searches was just too high at the end.

For her, the manual process was not just tedious but very overwhelming to the point that it could drain one’s energy to zero. However, with the new system she foresees a reduced risk on the side of brokers, agents, property buyers and vendors. More so, land documents will become public and accessible; thus transparent, thereby restoring public confidence in land transaction.

She said the long period in getting search results from the three divisions as was the case in the past, led to buyers loosing lands or properties for following due process. Thus, while a buyer decides to make a search to verify a property before purchase, another buyer ignores the process and pays the vendor, thereby overtaking the first buyer. Situations like this can mess up plans of the first buyer who might have made plans with the property.

Madam Atiase, who is also the CEO of E.Wells Realty was therefore happy that the new system guarantees information security and authenticity of documents; thereby reducing channels of disputes and litigations.

As a serial entrepreneur with international experience, she also made a good recommendation on security. She advised the Lands Commission to consider block chain technology to make it impossible for unscrupulous people to infiltrate, change, hack or cheat the system.

Licensed Surveyors  

One cannot talk about land in general and land administration in particular without surveyors, licensed ones for that matter. Without them the authenticity of a land is difficult to establish. It is for this reason that Mr. Gustav Kplom Asamoah’s submission excites me.

Mr. Asamoah who is a Licensed Surveyor and Executive Director of the Licensed Surveyors Association of Ghana (LiSAG) described the automation process as a testament of Government-Private Sector collaboration in improving land services delivery in Ghana.

I am personally aware that LiSAG developed a similar system to help its members make land searches much easier. I am also aware that although the members are largely private sector certified surveyors, they work on behalf of the government through the Director of the Survey and Mapping Division to authenticate, demarcate and document lands and their true ownerships.

From his experience, he was confident in the new online system, but stressed that “every new system may have some teething challenges. When it happens like that, let us all support the Commission to rectify them and keep improving till we have a very efficient system.”

He also called for constant sensitization, monitoring and evaluation of staff at the Commission to ensure they consistently do the right things to let the system work. This is because, “Change is difficult, but the public should cooperate with the commission and other stakeholders to make the system efficient and effective.”

My Take

As a Real Estate Developer and Broker, I know for sure that this new system will also erase the fear and restore the confidence that Ghanaians in the diaspora and investors have in acquiring properties in Ghana. This is because from the comfort of their location, they can apply and track land searches to understand the genealogy of the land and ascertain the validity of the ownership before making payments to a third party, owner or vendor.

It is in their right to know all that. Such information should not be made a state secret and kept in the chest of a privileged few. It is the phenomenon of making information of land ownership and acquisition opaque that has facilitated fraud, disputes, litigations and sometimes bloody clashes in the past. No one, be it Ghanaian or foreigner will put their money in a risky transaction.

That is a loss to the country as a whole and not just vendors or brokers. Access to funding for large infrastructure projects will also improve as banks, lenders and other financial institutions can easily provide funds because they can properly and better authenticate landed collateral.

The undue delays and other challenges that the manual process caused also affected many transactions and investments which could have benefitted the larger Ghanaian economy and people. For instance, in the case where some deposits had been made for a land, the long search period and incoherent search results from the three divisions on the same land during the manual system was a turn-off for buyers and investors. Attempts to retrieve deposits can be very hellish to say the least.

Thank God, the situation will improve under this new initiative. Nonetheless, I also recommend the establishment of the various Family, Clans and Stool Secretariats across the country. More so, the Lands Commission Should make public a map of jurisdictions and various ownerships and interests in all lands especially, plotted and confirmed court judgements thereof to reduce land disputes to the barest minimum.

I agree that it is early days yet to assess or review this new system. So we will all monitor and make notes on our observations. So that at the right time we can have a thorough review of the new automated and consolidated land search policy of the country’s land administration process.

It is our hope; here I speak for all stakeholders; with all humility though, that this process will not end here, but will spark a rippling effect of reforms in all aspects of land administration in the country. The Government, the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry and the Lands Commission should be rest assured that as stakeholders we are behind them and will continue to lend all the necessary support to make land administration in Ghana the best on the African continent; if not the world.

The writer is the CEO of CBC Properties Limited, a member of Ghana Association of Real Estate Brokers (GAR) and Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA); Email: [email protected] Cell: +233-20-422-5002

 

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