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Why digitising land records is vital

By Amrit Soar and Tesrah Wamache

Kenya is often referred to as the “Silicon Savannah” given the role of ICT in economic growth. Technology continues to impact most sectors and their operations. While keeping up with this trend, the Government of Kenya (“Government”) through the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning (“Ministry”) in consultation with key stakeholders in the real estate sector embarked on digitization of land records, a process aimed at migrating information relating to land from manual registers to a digital database.

Digitization derives its legality from the Land Registration Act No. 3 of 2012 which mandates land registrars to maintain land registers and documents relating to land in a secure, accessible, and reliable format including electronic files. The Land Registration (Electronic Transactions) Regulations, 2020 also outline the legal framework relating to digitization.

With the required legislation in place, the National Land Information System commonly dubbed as Ardhisasa was launched in April 2021. Ardhisasa is a platform through which land transactions, previously done manually, can now be done online. Some of the services offered on Ardhisasa include land registration e.g., registration of transfers and charges, land administration e.g., payment of land rent, physical planning applications, valuation, survey and mapping. The launch of Ardhisasa was a revolutionary milestone in the digitization of land records in Kenya.

Following its launch, the use of Ardhisasa was rolled out in the Nairobi Registry. For over one year now, transactions involving properties in Nairobi are being conducted on the Ardhisasa platform. Currently, Nairobi Registry has been digitized, and very limited manual services are being offered.

To transact on Ardhisasa, one is required to have an individual or corporate account. Among the details provided during registration are identification and contact details (personal email address and official mobile number) which details must be current as that is the channel for communication by the Ministry regarding any activity on a parcel of land. Identification details provided by individuals and companies must tally with the details in the Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS) and the Business Registration Service (BRS) respectively as the systems are interlinked.

Once an account is created, one is required to upload details of their property for verification which process entails an audit of the manual records for a specific parcel and confirmation of its veracity. It is only upon completion of verification that one can transact online through Ardhisasa.

Ardhisasa is intended to provide a lasting solution to issues relating to ownership of land in Kenya as it will provide an updated and verified database of land records. Digitization is also meant to eliminate historical land problems such as loss of documentation, duplicity of titles, destruction of records, and missing records. It aims to enhance security of ownership as it requires a landowner to approve all applications that are made with respect to any given property. In addition, it is anticipated that it shall reduce the time and costs of carrying out land transactions.

Despite the benefits and the ray of hope that Ardhisasa presents to the real estate industry, there have been challenges experienced by users who have so far interacted with the platform. Concerns have been expressed at the time taken for completion of the verification process, which has been lengthy and time-consuming, resulting in delays in completion of transactions.

Most property owners are also not conversant with how the Ardhisasa platform works. In addition, the system is yet to be completely seamless in its operations e.g., currently it is impossible to carry out multiple dispositions simultaneously (e.g., a discharge, transfer and charge) as has been the practice previously under manual registration. Further, as currently configured, Ardhisasa makes account creation by foreigners challenging as their details, unlike those of Kenyan citizens, are not contained in the IPRS and BRS databases. Foreigners therefore must first write a letter to the Ministry requesting for their accounts to be set up which takes time.

Despite the challenges, the ship has already sailed with respect to digitization. It is intended that Ardhisasa shall gradually be streamlined and rolled out to other parts of the country. Eventually all land transactions countrywide shall be done digitally.

The launch and roll out of Ardhisasa comes amidst other digitization processes such as i) conversion of titles issued under the repealed land laws to titles that conform to current land laws; and ii) conversion of long-term leases for developments to sectional titles under the Sectional Properties Act, 2020.

Digitization of land records is instrumental in the efforts being made by the Government to ease doing business in Kenya and to revolutionize land ownership. Once fully fledged, it will go a long way in achieving the principles enshrined in the Constitution that land be held in a manner that is equitable, efficient, transparent, productive, and sustainable.

The article was published in the Business Daily on 28 November 2022 and can be accessed here