Interview with Helena Vidalic from Transparency International on Land Corruption and Open Data | Land Portal

Opening up land-related administrative data, combining it with data from other sources  and processing and making this data available as easily accessible information for women and men equally could be a means to counteracting land corruption in land management, land administration and land allocation. But does open data and enhanced data transparency indeed help to counteract land corruption? 

In order to answer this question, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH with the support of the German Federal Government has commissioned the study The Role of Open Data in Fighting Land Corruption: Evidence, Opportunities and Challenges. Initial findings of this study suggest that the current data revolution and open data can play an important role in realizing sustainable land governance.

To further raise awareness of these issues, GIZ and the Land Portal Foundation are publishing interviews and podcasts with a range of experts. This is an interview with Helena Vidalic,  the Project Coordinator for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Transparency International Secretariat.

 

Helena, what do you feel are the implications of land corruption? 

Land is a vital resource – sustaining livelihoods across the globe – but it is increasingly prone to corruption at the local, national and international level. Every fifth citizen globally, and every second citizen in Africa, has been affected by land corruption in recent years according to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer.

The prevalence and wide-ranging impact of land corruption means this is an issue that cannot be overlooked by individuals and organisations working to secure land rights for people and communities and to improve land governance locally, nationally, and globally. We must collectively recognise and draw attention to the central role land corruption plays in:

  • facilitating land grabbing and conflict

  • increasing gender inequalities and undermining women’s rights

  • evading the requirements of free, prior and informed consent

  • impeding progress towards the sustainable development goals

  • fuelling poverty and inequality

For the poorest and most marginalised communities, land corruption undermines efforts to break the cycle of poverty and further distorts how income, resources and services are shared.

For women, land corruption takes many forms including traditions preventing women from inheriting land, bribery and sexual extortion by community leaders and land officials, and multinational investors appropriating land traditionally worked by women. Land corruption increases gender disparities, which undermines women’s livelihoods and social standing and, ultimately, perpetuates poverty.

For young people, land corruption in rural areas can sap entrepreneurial spirit and restrict access to employment, driving migration to overcrowded urban centres.

For nations, the consequences of land corruption include food insecurity, an increased risk of conflict, and a threat to traditional ways of life. Land corruption eats away at national economies and stands in the way of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries have limited anti-corruption oversight by independent bodies, while the apparent lack of consequences for those that abuse their power means the corrupt often get away with their crimes.

 

Why do you think that land corruption is so prevalent? What allows land corruption to thrive?

Corruption is enabled or exacerbated by structural flaws in the legal and administrative frameworks governing the relations between stakeholders in land governance. These include public authorities, local or traditional authorities, private actors, land owners and other individuals or groups making claims to land.

  • Poor legal framework 

  • Weak implementation 

  • Discrimination and exclusion 

  • Lack of information about land rights 

Does open data and enhanced data transparency indeed help to counteract land corruption?

Open Data (OD) in its definition enhances transparency. For data to be qualified as open, they should be accessible, usable, and shareable to everyone. This definition is aligned with the transparency principle of Transparency International (TI): “knowing who, why, what, how and how much." These questions should be answerable with data: for example, when land is acquired by a company for agribusiness, what do we know or what can we know looking at the data that would answer these questions?  If the data is available, essential information would be available to impacted communities surrounding the land transaction.  This transparency of information is a tool to fight corruption. 

Open data should play a fundamental role in counteracting corruption. Making the data available to the public is the first step in responding to corruption. The expectation is that the data can help us better understand where corruption happens, what forms it takes and what enables it.  Tools to combat corruption need to evolve and adapt, and so does our need to understand the manifestations of corruption in the land sector. 

However, although data and technology are key components for enhancing transparency, in and by themselves, they do not suffice in dealing with challenges organizations face when using technology to tackle corruption. Data and technology can require intensive resource allocation, and do not always lead to results in improving service delivery or people’s engagement, especially in rural areas.

 

Can you tell us more about your work with regards to open data in the fight against land corruption? 

TI started working on data and ICTs solutions a few years ago and explored and piloted some solutions. These included developing an online platform to disseminate information, however, the projects did not have enough resources to pursue its efforts beyond the piloting phase. Future endeavours will need to pay special attention to open data, and tech solutions in general. These will need to be grounded in local contexts to ensure uptake, usability, and effectiveness. 

 

It is said that there is a significant gap between the potential and the impact of open data and transparency initiatives.  Why do you think that is? 

The potential of ODT initiatives is huge and is linked to the potential of data, which significantly increased in the recent years with the use of machine learning. This potential does not correspond to the impact expected strictly because of the data. Even where land data are open, often their quality is not adequate. Data are sometimes incomplete with information missing; or the data might be inaccurate, not reflecting the actual context; or they might just be outdated.

Beside the quality problem, there are also ethical considerations when there is no law or institution regulating the use of data.  Furthermore, open data might worsen land corruption: by using for instance, private data to identify a group of people, or a region that might be vulnerable to land corruption. 

To bridge the gap between the potential and the impact of ODT initiatives, the data should be usable, with sufficient quantity and quality. Regulation of data usage is also necessary to avoid any ill-intentioned individuals or businesses using the data to act in corrupt manners or hide corruption.

 

One of the main findings of the report is that those currently on the margins, including women and disadvantaged groups, must not only be given access to data, but also contribute to the creation of said data.  Do you have any comments on this?

Like any actor of the data ecosystem of land governance, women and vulnerable groups contribute to the creation of data. Their contribution towards tackling corruption is minimal because of the rare reporting mechanisms or channels that exist to address or simply discuss land related matters. In many countries, a structured and organised way of aggregating information from citizens on land matter does not exist. This does not mean there is no mechanism to address corruption, but a data oriented systematic process to collect information generated from the public to address land corruption is absent in many countries. Without a systematic method to capture land related data generated by vulnerable groups and people living in a remote area, it is still possible to create data from indirect channels like data from the judiciary system that can provide information about land-related matters. But often the data will be incomplete or not open.

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