Formalizing Land Ownership Key to Economic Growth
By Sayed Aziz Azimi
I recently wrote about the coming transition in Afghanistan’s relationship with the international community from an aid recipient under military protection to a developing country assuming its place in the global economy. Companies like Technologists, Inc. (Ti) are ideally situated to support this transition due to our extensive involvement in multiple business sectors and excellent working relationships with leading Afghans both in government and private industry.
One of the most pressing reforms in Afghanistan today—and one most critical to its long-term development—is the formalization of land ownership and property rights in general. The country has a mix of new laws that overlap (and often conflict with) holdover legislation from the communist, Russian-invasion, and Taliban eras, not to mention traditional customs and religious laws on property. In some areas provincial land laws take precedence over national laws; in others, landowners ignore the formal legal process altogether and turn to tribal elders, village councils, and even local power brokers to resolve disputes.
The government has taken important first steps in creating a formal land-ownership registry covering the entire country. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other international donors have provided critical support for this effort. But much additional work needs to be done.
Of course, changing laws is only part of the process. Changing attitudes is another part—and perhaps a harder part—of the reform agenda. For starters, Afghan landowners—and citizens in general—need to develop greater trust in the legal system. Formal rules for buying, selling, and registering property with well-defined boundary lines will result in secure ownership, encourage more productive use of land, and increase output and employment. Secure ownership will make Afghans more likely to invest in long-term improvements and less likely to tolerate unsustainable and ecologically harmful practices.
These concepts are commonplace in developed countries but are still quite new in Afghanistan. The concept of a technology-based approach to well-defined boundary lines is the first step toward changing attitudes and establishing new legal precedents in a fast changing Afghanistan. The increasingly widespread use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for land surveying, which is a well-established practice internationally (and also used by many foreign companies working in Afghanistan), will eliminate many legal problems in land ownership today. GPS technology replaces the antiquated current system that is based primarily on the ownership of the adjoining neighbors with a modern, formalized approach to pricing that will help resolve disputes and create new wealth.
One way to do this is to engage a private firm to conduct GPS surveying with international donor support, and in cooperation with the Afghan court archive system and appropriate municipalities. Each and every private land parcel can be surveyed by GPS, and its coordinates can then be used to measure precisely the size and location of the property for a new deed. The collected information will also provide the basis for a just and equitable tax assessment and tax collection mechanism. In return for the security of receiving a legal deed, each property owner will be expected to pay a reasonable fee to the Afghan government, providing sorely needed revenue to the national treasury.
Property disputes and boundary questions will undoubtedly arise at construction sites across the country, as Ti and others continue building roads, bridges, medical facilities, government offices, power plants, water works, and other modern infrastructure. Legal reform will help—and change is coming—but in the meantime Ti stands ready now to help clients achieve their goals and get the job done.