In Summary
  • Starting on December 4 this year all land-related transactions and payments for Nairobi County would be done online through the eCitzen portal.
  • Just because something is electronic does not mean it automatically becomes trustworthy, transparent or even accountable.
  • In-built checks and balances can be deliberately switched off and on, in order to selectively allow fraudulent transactions to go through.
  • The Lands ministry has indeed made a step in the right direction, but it needs to go a step further and adopt blockchain technologies in their new system.

Recently the ministry of Lands issued a notice and procedure ushering in a new era in the land registration process. Further, the notice indicated that starting on December 4 this year all land-related transactions and payments for Nairobi County would be done online through the eCitzen portal.

This is indeed a great step in as far as transformation of the land registry and activities is concerned. However, from a technical perspective one wonders whether the new system is making use of the new technology on the scene called blockchain.

From my reading of the notice, I could tell that the new system is most likely using the older technology commonly known as client-server technology.

There is nothing inherently wrong with client-server technology, but by design it presupposes a centralized ‘trust’ system where one agency is trusted to manage the whole value chain from registration, ownership, transfers and title deeds, among others.

CRUX OF THE MATTER

In such circumstances, one simply needs to automate the processes within that trusted agency — with the priority intention being increasing efficiencies rather than increasing transparency and accountability.

Such centralised systems do not address the crux of the matter that has bedevilled our Lands ministry since independence: lack of trust, transparency and accountability.

In other words, just because something is electronic does not mean it automatically becomes trustworthy, transparent or even accountable. Indeed most automated systems do have these capabilities built in, but the leadership may be lacking the political will to enable them.

In some cases, even where there is political will to enable these features, one could still get sabotaged by lower-level technocrats who have been accustomed to collecting ‘rent’ from the prevailing opaque systems.

Such technocrats previously used to reject outright computerisation in the early 2000s, but more recently they have been replaced by younger technocrats who embrace the computerization , but with an intention to continue exercising rent-seeking tactics through the electronic systems.

FRAUDULENT TRANSACTIONS

As an example, if one has an illegally acquired title deed, nothing stops them from selling the land through the new electronic system. Secondly, even if one has A valid title deed, nothing stops them from trying to sell the same piece of land twice — to two different people.

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