Transparency Issues of Land Administration Processes in Ghana and the Role of Blockchain Technology
below shows a four-dimensional framework for the transparency of land administration. The framework and its subsequent analysis and synthesis comprehensively capture and identify the transparency issues in the land administration processes, as highlighted under the findings, and highpoint how these processes can be made transparent, and the role of blockchain towards this. The transparency of land administration processes involves carrying out and sharing up-to-date information on ownership, value, and the use of land and all of its associated resources among related institutions, right holders and other stakeholders, including third parties, as well as, acting on the information in an open manner [30
]. Transparency allows citizens unbridled access to land data, activities, organizations and professionals in an open and participatory manner in taking and implementing land decisions [4
]. The availability/sharing of and accessibility to relevant land data, openness, and participatory processes in land administration thus underline the transparency of land administration in the context of this paper. Transparency issues appear akin across the different land administrations processes. For this reason, the discussion of blockchain’s role towards addressing these issues has been integrated so as to give a better correlation and appreciation of the issues across the different land administration processes.
Taking the inventory of tenure by land registration significantly contributes to the openness, availability of information, and transparency of who owns and uses land [69
]. Ensuring transparency thus depends on the establishment of land registers where they do not exist yet, making records accessible, securing transaction procedures, and documenting processed information [30
]. When only regarding the legal context related to land registration in Ghana, one will expect openness and transparency in the system as outlined in our findings. However, [61
] notes that in practice, the land registration procedure is cumbersome and fraught with lots of informal dealings, secrecy, bribery and corruption. In a 2016 survey, 69% and 9% of citizens that had received their registration certificates between 3–5 months and 6–8 months, respectively, indicated that they had paid bribes to middlemen or staff of the national land commission (NLC) to facilitate the process, whereas, those that had refused to pay bribes had their documents neglected, and prolonged to between 6 and 12 months to receive their land certificates [58
]. This malicious delay due to the non-payment of the bribe is attributed to the lack of openness and transparency in the system which inhibits clients’ ability to know the status of their registration documents in order to tell if documents are being unnecessarily delayed. The author [70
] was correct to note that there is information asymmetry in Ghana’s land sector, and that land information is monopolized by public land institutions. There is a lack of transparency [71
] as well as information imbalance among land stakeholders, which greatly debilitates obtaining credible information due to the failure to divulge information between stakeholders, particularly to clients. This situation refutes the openness, availability and accessibility to information, and the participatory principles of land administration transparency.
On a technical level, the computerization of land registration processes can help to enhance transparency by giving citizens direct access to relevant data and also allow them to monitor process’ progress [69
]. Technically, introducing blockchain in an already established registration processes is feasible [2
]. Ethereum Blockchain’s smart contract for example is possible in Ghana’s case [71
]. Smart contract applications allow for predefined rules and requirements of the registration processes in order to be carried out successfully when these rules and requirements are met [16
]. The design architecture of a public permissionless blockchain allows all transaction stakeholders, a free accessibility to information about the transaction and its processes by integrating all of them. In this way, the ability of documents to move through the stages of registration is independent of any single NLC officer or middleman, but subject to meeting all predefined conditions of the process, which every stakeholder can monitor equally. The whole registration process, from lodgment stage, through to the issuing and collection of the land certificate, thus becomes controlled by all stakeholders in the transaction due to their integration. This will not only expedite the registration process but also ensure the trust and credibility of land registration documents and processes. It is important to mention that, the manual stages of physical inspection, as well as survey and mapping services will still remain. However, these physical stages can now be brought under the complete monitoring of all concerned stakeholders, since everyone is aware of every stage of the registration. Stakeholders can therefore monitor these physical stages when they are due. This will help stakeholders to be able to validate the outputs of these physical processes as the accurate representation of the ground realities or not. Thus, in lieu of the transparency of land administration processes, a blockchain can boost land registration process by enhancing;
Openness: through the decentralized broadcasting of transactions to all the integrated stakeholders, every decision or action can be known to all and no action can be hidden. Thus, although the different stages of the registration process involve different stakeholders, every stakeholder is aware of each stage, as well as, what, how, and when work is done on the transaction which allows for openness.
Availability and access to land information: information imbalance obstructs accessibility to credible land data which breeds ignorance and permits fraudulent deals as some stakeholders become oblivious of other happenings in the transaction. The decentralized broadcasting of transactions and all associated information across the stakeholders, coupled with the verification and validation, as well as the hashing of new transaction blocks to historical blocks allows for easy accessibility to all relevant information (both current and historical) on land ownership, parcel, and rights, by all stakeholders at all times. This will help eliminate information asymmetry and its associated challenges of bribery and corruption.
Participatory processes: the verification and validation through the consensus mechanism foster maximum participation in the entire registration processes from all stakeholders, since this allows the majority stakeholders to be part of transactions’ decision making every time. The consensus mechanism takes place at every stage of the registration process until it is completed. Moreover, the broadcasting of process stages to all stakeholders automatically induces participation in the processes either actively or inactively. This is because everyone is aware of every happening and can give their contributions accordingly as and when necessary. That is, stakeholders are always privy to and aware of all the happenings and processes. This makes every stakeholder part of the transaction and registration processes in the participatory sense.
Regarding land information infrastructure, this typically relies on accurate and accessible cadastral and topographic datasets [55
]. In Ghana, however, land information at the disposal of the different divisions of NLC is always not up-to-date because there is a lack of synchronization within the information infrastructure [71
]. This challenge sometimes allows unauthorized tampering with land documents and data by some unscrupulous officials [71
], across all divisions and in all the land processes. This is made possible because of the manual land administration system. This challenge can however be eliminated through the digitization and application of blockchain across the different divisions [2
]. Every change on blockchain updates automatically without human efforts. This will thus provide up-to-date data at every point in time across all the divisions of the NLC and in all their processes. In this way, in addition to facilitating the data accessibility, openness and participatory processes, the blockchain will ensure up-to-date land data all the time to enhance all the land administration processes and decisions [6
]. These potentials of blockchain if combined with the publication in the dailies stage of registration process and land taxation processes, will boost openness, transparency and participation for all citizens for transparency in the system.
Land valuation must represent an unbiased estimate, a learned opinion and a supported value estimate. Where there is no openness in the valuation processes, biases cannot be identified. Where there are difficulties in accessing market data on comparable properties, valuation will not reflect the reasonable market value. Moreover, where there is no participation in the valuation process from involved stakeholders, it will not be possible to achieve an ‘arm’s length transaction’ since parties will have limited idea of the actual market situation. Again, maximum participation helps to avoid value conjecture on the part of some valuers who may skip some appropriate valuation steps like the physical inspection of the property and its comparables, due to the laborious and tedious nature of these valuation steps. In [30
], the authors note that land value data is useful to achieve the arm’s length transaction as it gives data for comparison purposes. A major challenge of valuation process in Ghana is the access to readily available and up-to-date market data on comparable properties, either from property owners or from the land institutions. This is due to the secrecy amongst land stakeholders, lack of transparency, and also information imbalance as identified in [70
]. The same challenges that lead to land registration challenges and lengthy processing time. These greatly affect the valuation processes and the possibility of valuation results to reflect the current market situation and factors. On this basis, if registered properties and registration processes are carried out on blockchain as discussed already, the valuation processes can be linked to and carried out on this blockchain system. In so doing, since all registered properties and their data are readily available, it will facilitate access to the market data on comparables, particularly of registered properties. The openness of the system will also permit all stakeholder awareness of the valuation process to achieve the arm’s length transaction [30
], and a truly reflexive market value which is based on the prevailing market situations and factors. The choice of valuation method and its appropriateness can also be evaluated by stakeholders, particularly given that comparables with the same basis and purpose of valuation can easily be found from registered properties via the blockchain system. Therefore, with the secure, immutable, time-stamped, and up-to-date characteristics of the blockchain-based land administration system [24
], accessibility to comparables for valuation is made easier and faster, as well as is open to the knowledge of all stakeholders. Thus, the valuation process from, identifying property owners, and comparables, through choosing a valuation technique, to actual valuation, can then be carried out via the blockchain system. This can help to eliminate value conjecture by some valuers due to the difficult accessibility to market data on comparables, as well as ignorance on the part of other stakeholders of the valuation processes. This can also address petty mistakes like wrong addresses, incorrect party details, valuation dates, as well as the exact rights to properties since other stakeholders can identify and rectify these through verification and validation.
The valuation process is similar to the taxation process. The difference is that the valuation list for taxation is, however, published in the dailies for 28 days before they can become legally binding, In property taxation, a major challenge in making property tax administration effective in Ghana is the difficulty in connecting properties to their locations, and also where transparency is lacking in the system [62
]. To boost effectiveness therefore, there must be openness, as well as availability of and accessibility to property location and other information. Since the taxation process is just like the valuation processes, this can also be carried out using blockchain. Blockchain will make the identification of registered property easier for taxation as they are readily listed in the system. In this way, the process involved in levying property taxes will become open to stakeholders and give easy access to information queries and clarifications, to make the system open and participatory for transparency. Moreover, taxation records can be kept securely in this system to eliminate inherent illegalities as well as to ensure that all taxes are channeled into the right government coffers since any diversion of taxes will be known on the blockchain system.
In view of the transparency challenges of the land administration processes in the foregoing discussions, the current Ghanaian system of land use planning and development has been criticized, despite the requirement for all developments to proceed with issuing development permits [72
]. The argument underlying this critique is that the system does not promote compliance [65
]. This is a problem not only in Ghana but across the sub-Saharan Africa region. The authors in [74
] noted that between 50% and 75% of all the new houses in the region’s cities were developed on lands delivered through processes that do not comply with all the legal requirements. In Ghana, [74
] again noted that 31% of property owner respondents had building permits while 69% had no building permits, and neither were they in the process of or taking steps with the aim of acquiring one. Of the 31% respondents that had building permits, only 23.3% had acquired permits prior to starting construction, while 76.7% did so subsequently to their building commencement [74
]. The educated and formal sector employees who were aware of land use planning and development were the most that had building permits and ‘there is the likelihood for such people to have connections and influence to aid their acquisition of building permit’ [74
] (p. 21). Without such connections and influence, a person is likely to face challenges like unnecessary delays, and the paying of illegal monies, just as was seen under the land registration process, before they can receive permits to commence developments [74
]. There is therefore negative trust perceptions for land use planning and development officials, and the system [75
]. In [66
], the authors identified a lack of involvement and or participation and better knowledge of land use planning amongst the majority of citizens, and recommended ‘the need for planning authorities to adopt participatory land use planning together with customary landholders, and educating them on the essence of comprehensive land use planning approaches’ [66
] (p. 4), [42
]. These problems account for the low compliance with land use planning and development regulations, leading to a high rate of unauthorized developments. Land use planning and development processes need to be as open and as transparent as possible to allow for equal awareness, better knowledge, and accessibility to the system for all citizens. Adopting participatory approaches to planning by involving citizens, particularly those affected by the planning scheme, is a means to create awareness and to boost trust for the system [76
]. Blockchain technology which integrates all stakeholders in a transaction and decision-making processes can facilitate the participatory planning approaches. A permissionless public blockchain (this allows all stakeholders to have open access, join, and partake in decisions without restrictions) is useful in this sense [45
]. Citizens have to sign up to this permissionless blockchain via their computers or other supportive devices. They will then be assigned confidential private keys with which to sign into the system every time to be able to initiate a request or partake in discussions or transactions as seen in Figure 1
under findings. No external permission is necessary. Therefore, stakeholders can login to see all land use planning and development discussions and actions, follow it and contribute to it where necessary. To achieve this will, however, require intensive public education and awareness creation for the majority of citizens to know the use and be able to partake in the system. If this is done, it can improve more citizenry participation in processes and decisions on land use planning and development. The improved accessibility and participatory processes can consequently enhance openness, transparency, and increased trust among stakeholders. This is because it is impossible to hide decisions and processes from any stakeholder. Digitizing land use planning and development processes and data on blockchain system will therefore integrate all stakeholders. In this way, stakeholders can monitor areas for which land use permits have been granted and areas for which they have not been granted since these data will reflect on the blockchain system, and be known to all stakeholders. Citizens can then act as watchdogs, and to report on any developments that commence without the right approval. This can help to end the non-compliance to land use planning and development schemes, as well as the indiscriminate and unauthorized developments.
Improved participation through the use of a blockchain system for land transaction helps citizens to have control and security over the data. This enhances the take-up and trust in government institutions and processes to support sustainable economic growth as identified in the implementation of Georgia’s blockchain land registration project [76
]. A counter argument that such an improved open accessibility and participatory process can lead to opportunistic behaviors and misinformation can be made. However, blockchain’s design architecture provides for systematic review and checks for all decisions and information. This is done by the majority stakeholders through the verification and validation (consensus mechanism) of data based on the good knowledge of actual grounds work, sources, history, and credibility of the stakeholder that is making or giving such decisions and data before they are accepted as true and authentic [23
]. Based on the blockchain’s elements of distributive decentralization (which integrates all land stakeholders), the consensus mechanism, hashing of records, immutability, and synchronization of data, land administration processes can be carried out in a way that is open to all stakeholders to ensure transparency, enhance trust amongst stakeholders, as well as achieve up-to-date data at all times for land decisions. This can be achieved by adopting a single permissionless public blockchain system for the different land administration divisions and their processes. The manual land administration functions like surveying and physical inspections will still be manual but can now be done with all other stakeholders being aware. This is because, blockchain is a decentralized technology and permits everyone on the system to know and be aware when each of the land transaction stages is due. This allows stakeholders to be able to follow, and to keep an oversight check on these processes to confirm accuracy through validation. Applying blockchain across all processes of land administration in such a simultaneous approach has synergistic effects of real-time data update, accessibility, and openness across them. This makes it easier for each stakeholder to keep-up, and to participate in decisions and transactions. It also ensures easy access to readily available land data for all interested stakeholders.