Kenya: Land Records Digitisation Hitches Block Sh100 Billion in Credit to Kenyans

18 August 2021

The ongoing digitisation of land records in Nairobi has come at a heavy cost to thousands of Kenyans, with the slow process blocking transactions worth Sh100 billion.

The worst hit are players in land conveyancing and registration, those seeking loans from banks and professionals who facilitate various land transactions, indicating that system gaps have blocked many land-related transactions and affected operations in different economic sectors.

Acknowledging the slow process, the Ministry of Lands blames corrupted data at the lands registry.

Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney on Tuesday said the ministry had encountered double allocations, land grabbing, irregular records and other issues that must be resolved before records are uploaded to the digital platform.

State of data

"When we started the process of building the National Land Management Information System (NLMIS), we didn't fully appreciate the state of our data," she said.

"We didn't know how bad our data was, that it was wanting in many ways and had many gaps that we needed to fill, until we started the process of merging up our files from the different departments."

She said many of the land records failed to pass the threshold of integrity, completeness and accuracy of data, which are key before being uploaded to the digital platform.

"When a lot of the professionals such as lawyers, surveyors, valuers and physical planners come on the platform, sometimes they will not find the land parcel they are looking for and that is because either the data is incomplete, some records are missing, it's not clean or probably it was acquired by fraud," she said.

Her statement came even as lawyers and bankers continue to complain that the procedural hitches occasioned by the transition to the new system have blocked at least Sh104 billion in credit for the private sector, due to problems facing some 2,000 transactions.

Processing of loans

Kenya Bankers Association CEO Habil Olaka on Monday told the Nation that the transition had hampered the issuing of credit to Kenyans by affecting core transactions that are critical in the processing of loans, despite a huge appetite for credit as many recover from the impact of Covid-19.

"The transition has affected normal transactions such as consent, registration of transfer and charging of securities. Some 2,000 files related to the Sh104 billion are at different stages but the money cannot be released because there needs to be a perfection of the securities," Dr Olaka said.

The bankers met ministry officials last week to address the concerns. Ms Karoney said out of 1,500 files forwarded to the ministry for fast-tracking of processes, 700 had been cleared by Tuesday morning.

"To that extent, we set up something called an on-demand service, which means that even if you come to the platform and your land parcel is not there or have a challenge, you can apply to the ministry so that we try to clean up your parcel in real time," she said.

"There are about 1,500 or so transactions that lawyers had filed by last week. We did an RRI and up to this morning we had cleared about 700 of them. We hope to clear the remaining about 800 by the end of this week."

Preparing users for similar delays until November, when the ministry expects the Nairobi registry digital land records to have been fully stabilised, she said priority will be given to people performing land transactions.

90 more days

"We want to appeal to our customers to appreciate the slow process that we have to undertake because of the need to look at the integrity of the data in question. We are still struggling because of the challenges in data but we think we need another 90 days to fully clean the data sets," she said.

The Nairobi registry has about 87,000 registered land owners, the ministry says. Many of the records have missing files, the land parcels are missing in the official land cadastre, some parcels are unauthenticated and others have registration issues.

Many people offer land as collateral for credit from financial institutions, and the government's slow digitisation of the Lands registry has hit them hard.

Enhance records' security

President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 27 launched the Sh1 billion NLIMS, promising that the digital land resource management platform would enhance the security of land records, speed up land transactions and curb fraud.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) in June wrote to the Ministry of Lands complaining that the digital system had delayed processes such as land-conveyancing, blocked business for the sector and soured relations between lawyers and their clients.

In the June 22 memorandum, LSK's Nairobi branch also noted that the transition to the digital portal had a ripple effect on the banking sector, stifling banks' ability to advance loans where land documents were required.

"We are reasonably apprehensive that continued usage of the system without a manual alternative will continue to cause massive inconvenience and loss of business to our members, clients and the general public," the letter said.

But the ministry remains adamant that running a manual land system and a digital one side by side will not happen, because manual records have many cases of corrupted data that will weigh down the effectiveness of digital records if run concurrently.

"It's not practical to run a parallel manual and digital system because of the unique challenges of land in our country. We want to restore order in this sector and we cannot restore order if we continue to compound the chaos by running a system that is not transparent," Ms Karoney said.

Live portal

What the ministry has done is feed all the land data onto a live portal that shows the state of every parcel, indicating those with issues and those that are clean.

The ministry says running manual records cannot show the latest update on the status of a parcel of land, and thus the government may end up authorising illegitimate transactions.

Meanwhile, banks insist that credit to the private sector will continue to be stifled if the current slow pace continues, jeopardising economic recovery.

"It has affected the central registry, meaning that almost all banks are affected. Being a system problem, it means banks cannot process any transaction of that nature," Dr Olaka said on Monday.

Fight cartels

The ministry had tried without much success to digitise land records since 1995.

The successful launch of the digital records, starting with Nairobi County in April, meant that Kenyans would access services such as land searches, applying for title deeds, sale of land and other transactions online.

"The digital platform will also secure innocent Kenyans from exploitation by cartels, middlemen and fraudsters. Perennial fraud, corruption and illegal land transactions will be a thing of the past," President Kenyatta said at the launch.

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