Tim Hanstad at Project Syndicate: “Last month, a former Zimbabwean cabinet minister was arrested for illegally selling parcels of state land. A few days earlier, a Malaysian court convicted the ex-chairman of a state-owned land development agency of corruption. And in January, the Estonian government collapsed amid allegations of corrupt property dealings. These recent events all turned the spotlight on the growing but neglected threat of land-related corruption.
Such corruption can flourish in countries that are unprepared to manage the heightened demand for land that accompanies economic and population growth. Land governance in these countries – institutions, policies, rules, and records for managing land rights and use – is underdeveloped, which undermines the security of citizens’ land rights and enables covert land grabs by the well connected.
In Ghana, for example, the government keeps land records for only about 2% of currently operating farms; the ownership of the remainder is largely undocumented. In India, these records were, until recently, often kept in disorganized stacks in government offices.
Under such circumstances, corruption becomes relatively easy and lucrative. After all, when recordkeeping is nonexistent or chaotic, who can confidently identify the rightful owner of a parcel of land? As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International put it in a report a decade ago, “where land governance is deficient, high levels of corruption often flourish.” This corruption “is pervasive and without effective means of control.”
Globally, one in five people report having paid a bribe to access land services. In Africa, two out of three people believe the rich are likely to pay bribes or use their connections to grab land. Uncertainty about land rights can also affect housing security – around a billion people worldwide say they expect to be forced from their homes over the next five years.
Inevitably, the marginalized and vulnerable are the worst affected, whether they are widows driven from their homes by speculators or entire communities subjected to forced eviction by developers. Weak land rights and corruption also fuel conflict within communities, such as in Kenya, where political parties promise already-occupied land to supporters in an attempt to win votes.
But there is reason for hope. The ongoing revolution in information and communications technology provides unprecedented opportunities to digitize and open land records. Doing so would clarify the land rights of hundreds of millions of people globally and limit the scope for corrupt practices….(More)”.