The land sector is increasingly being cited as a corruption hub. Many countries across the globe are grappling with land-related corruption that dates to the colonial years and which have metamorphosed into historical injustices and continue to be a source of conflict and violation of basic human rights. Cases of land grabbing, compensation-less expropriation, gender-based discrimination in accessing and ownership of land and related resources, illegal mining deals, bribing to access land administration services among others are not new in the lands sector.
However, several organizations and initiatives such as the Monitoring and Evaluation of Land in Africa (MELA) project and the Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII) among others have, in the recent past, been taking centre stage in devising means to generate reliable data that can be leveraged to address such issues. The growing consensus globally is that reliable data and statistics remain a pivotal yet underexplored option on which the much-sought policy-responsive solutions need to be anchored.
Embracing open data is one recommendation that is being fronted by key stakeholders in the lands sector for reasons inter alia: enabling cross-utilization and learning from data by various consumers for complementary solutions to land issues including corruption and for building public confidence in government decisions based on data that is available on open sources. However, there is need to contextualize what open data actually means, to what extent and what type of data can be ‘open’. It is also imperative to understand that data by itself is not a panacea in the fight against corruption. The availability and openness (etc.) of data should be part of a multipronged approach for addressing corruption issues in the land sector.
A wide range of land data is required for monitoring and enabling the fight against corruption, which manifests in many forms ranging from land grabbing to bribery for accessing land administration services to gender discrimination in land access, use and ownership to political fueling of land conflicts among others.
To name but a few:
- Data in the form of reliable land survey maps and legal documents can be used to depict encroachment on public/state land.
- Data on bribery cases reported/ surveys on bribery in exchange for favourable/quicker land administration services can be used to profile the prevalence of bribery in the lands sector.
- Gender disaggregated data can be used to highlight gender biases in land ownership and land-related decision making.
- Root cause analysis on causes/triggers of land conflicts is a crucial source of data that highlights among other causes, political influence in land conflicts.
Data on land tenure security, both from surveys and administrative sources, is very critical in not only highlighting corruption in the lands sector but also as a basis for evidence-based and policy-appropriate solutions such as affirmative action to fight corruption. As explicitly articulated in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 1.4.2 the dataset on land tenure security features two key sub- indicators: possession of legal documentation by citizens in a country, and citizen’s perception of their tenure security; possession of legal documentation notwithstanding. The indicator has provisions to monitor the two sub-indicators over multiple disaggregation levels such as gender and a plurality of tenure regimes including customary, and contemporary formal tenure systems-leasehold, freehold etc. The disaggregation enables comprehensive assessment of biases in land ownership and management as relates to gender and tenure regimes that amount to corruption, and thus inform development of context specific policies.
The current unprecedented large-scale land acquisition of by government, non-governmental organizations as well as private investment entities has exponentially increased demand for land and thus allowing corruption deals to find their way in, in bid to beat competition. Data on such acquisitions such as their financial and social feasibility assessment as well as implications on indigenous communities need to be made publicly available prior to actual acquisitions taking place. This is key to ensure citizen’s participation and understanding of project activities prior to their undertaking as well as a source of informed judgement and consent for any expropriation. Generally, availing comprehensive data on large-scale land acquisitions for public participation and prior information enables sealing of corruption loopholes and building of public confidence and hence seamless integration of such projects into the locality.
Data on women’s ownership of agricultural land and the level of decision making has enabled drawing of insights where studies show that in sub-Saharan Africa, women may own land and lead agricultural production but do not have much influence on subsequent trade transactions of the produce. As such, SDG indicators 5.a.1 and 5.a.2 provide an opportunity for generation of data that profiles gender biases that have over the years cultured corruption in land acquisition and ownership. Indicator 5.a.2 particularly monitors the number of countries whose legal framework deliberately caters for women’s rights to land and as such, seal corruption loopholes that deny women their rights to land and related property.
Data on land conflicts such as triggers of conflict and conflict enablers is continuously proving useful in unearthing the corruption face that underlies and fuels certain land-related conflicts as witnessed in many parts of the world.
Both qualitative and quantitative data are key in dissecting land governance issues and highlighting gaps that need tailored policy solutions. As it stands, there is a significant disparity in land data openness among countries with some having made significant steps in having national-level data open while others, due to various reasons, are yet to open their data to the public. This is succinctly depicted by the Global Open Data Index where in 2016 countries were ranked on the basis of how open their land data was based on the following criteria: data is openly licensed, in an open and machine-readable format, downloadable at once, up-to-date, publicly available and available for free. The highest-ranking country was Taiwan at 100%, yet only 17 out of 94 countries were above 15% and the rest at 0%.
Land data compilation and openness is therefore still a work in progress and will require more deliberate institutional effort in collaboration and capacity support (technical and financial) from various stakeholders to have up and running open data portals with land datasets both in government and non- governmental institutions/agencies.
It is witnessed across the world that where land data or information exists in the public domain, justice has been served in legal proceedings even in cases of community land such as that of the Endorois community in Kenya whose case is yet to conclude but has seen tremendous progress. One best practice is witnessed in Tanzania among the Ngitili Agrosilvipastoral Systems whose farmer-led system (based on traditional rules and village by-laws which the community strictly adheres to) became part of a government initiative called Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga (HASHI) and helped restore land that was previously degraded between the 1930s and 1960s in Meatu, driven by increasing population, insecure tenure rights, government-organized woodland clearing to manage tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis, resource exploitation as a result of cash crop expansion, increasing demand for wood, and deforestation for inhabitation. (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. 2019. The Global Land Outlook, East Africa Thematic Report, Bonn, Germany.)
Contribution by Clinton Omusula.
UN Volunteer- Land Data and Knowledge Management, Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII),
Land and Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) Unit, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).