Corruption is rampant in Bangladesh. In 2009, the country ranked 139 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Of the various sectors in Bangladesh that are affected by corruption, the Land Management System is among the worst. Corruption has been highlighted as the main reason behind slow, poor quality and faulty land related services in the country.
Given the absence of a transparent system, bribery and other irregularities are common. People in the administration who are responsible for creating and maintaining land records often prepare incorrect records intentionally, and land owners are forced to pay bribes to officials to get the records approved. Officials and surveyors are often in cahoots with touts and land sharks; cases abound where people have paid bribes to officials and/or surveyors and gotten land ownership transferred/recorded illegally in their names, leaving the real owner(s) running pillar to post to get justice. In 2006 alone, bribes worth about 83 billion Bangladeshi Taka were paid for land related services such as registration and altering of records.
Over 3.2 million land-related cases are pending before the judiciary in Bangladesh. This huge figure does not take into account the large number of the aggrieved who do not feel empowered enough to approach the courts for litigation. Land disputes often lead to violence and criminal offenses. It is said that 80 percent of criminal offenses today stem from land disputes.
To deal with these problems of fraud and corruption, the government is working to digitize the land records and the land management system to infuse some level of transparency and accountability into the sector and curb the rampant corruption. Currently, a digital database has been created for Dhaka city, and over 0.42 million land records have been uploaded into the database, which is soon to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Other initiatives, either private or public sector led, are being actively considered. For example, Terra Tech Ltd, a conglomerate of 10 local IT Companies, has proposed a digital mapping and land revenue management system, which has received the green light from the government. The department hopes that these initiatives will be steps in the right direction for implementing the government’s Vision 2021 of a Digital Bangladesh and will usher in a more effective land management system in Bangladesh.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the limited success of past endeavors, which were localized and used different assumptions and follow-up actions. There is a growing realization and acknowledgment of the fact that isolated initiatives will not do much good. A consolidated plan has to be worked out under the public-private partnership (PPP) umbrella. In a recent dialogue [BN] on the effective use of ICT in the arena of Land Management, the Assistant Country Director of UNDP Bangladesh, Mr. K.A.M Morshed, presented a paper titled “Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh: Land”, which stressed the need for a correct database through proper surveys, the creation of digital land zoning systems (namely GIS based maps with zones), a digital land registration system, and an up-to-date digital land information system integrated with the voter/national ID database that would offer easy access, search and verification facilities, and a digital land revenue tracking and management system.
In one of his articles on Digital Land Systems [BN] on the blog Blogymate, Mustafa Jabbar, who is the proprietor of the Bijoy Bangla software and keyboard in Bangladesh, has pointed out that the mere digitization of land records will not be enough to achieve transparency and accountability. According to him, a complete overhaul of the land related laws and the current mechanism of service delivery is needed, as the current system is pretty much archaic. Mr. Jabbar states that the new, automated land information system should have an integrated approach so that a person searching the database can get all information pertaining to the land at one glance: ownership, registration, mutation, transfer, disputes, judicial cases, land map, taxes paid and pending, land related wills and such other legal documents. Furthermore, he feels that having all of this information is not enough. It needs to be made accessible to people in an easy, user-friendly manner, not only via the Internet but through the telephony system as well. According to him, just as a consumer can now access his/ her telephone bill from home through the interactive voice response system, it should be as easy for a person to access land related information.
There is a lot of hope riding on the effective use of ICT in the Land Management System of Bangladesh to usher in modernization, user-friendliness, transparency and accountability in this very important sector.
This post was first published in Global Voices Online as a part of its Technology for Transparency Network Project, which highlights technology initiatives and ideas that promote accountability and transparency worldwide·