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Computerising the Uganda land registry

By Gabindadde-Musoke

The intervention shall exponentially increase on its efficiency regarding storage, access, and retrieval of land information

In 1900, under the Buganda Agreement, the colonial administration of the day gifted its 1,000 collaborators in Buganda with 8 sq. miles each (akanaana), instantly transforming the erstwhile occupants of that land into tenants (serfs).

This action introduced a new system in the holding and management of land in Uganda known as the “Mailo” land holding system in Buganda and the “Native Freeholds” in the Kingdoms of Ankole and Toro.

In 1908, when the Torrens System of land registration was introduced, a registry to administer that land was not introduced into the country. This system of land registration involves the identification of each piece of land by a unique number and title.

Each title then has a description of the exact dimensions of the land and its boundaries, showing the name(s) of the registered owner(s) and any legal interests that have been applied against the title and which consequently affect ownership.

The land registry started out with the Mailo tenure system and the Ankole and Toro Native Freeholds but has since grown to cater to the Leasehold and Freehold tenures as held in the rest of the country.

From its inception in 1908 to date, the Land Registry has run on a manual system of record keeping. This was not much of a challenge up to the late 1960s when the delivery of public services was efficient.

However the general slackening of the pace of delivery of public services and the breakdown of conscientious public service provision within the military government administration of Idi Amin affected Service delivery within the Land Registry too. At the same time, the growing number of land records had started putting pressure on the land registry.

The tempo of land transactions for the period between 1908 to the late 1990s was quite slow, as land had as yet not become a commodity. The emergence of the large land dealers, such as Property Masters in the late 1990s, coupled with the seemingly uncertain policies of government of 1991 and 1998, as regards land registration and valuation, increased the pressure on the Land Registry through a high demand for title registration and the voluminous number of transactions that were being submitted. Government was not in position to respond.

Its unimplemented re-structuring policies of 1991 (as regards land management) had effectively denuded government of its Valuers and Land Registrars. This not only greatly slowed down the Land registry’s ability to handle submitted land transactions but also contributed to the disorganisation of the management of the registry itself, the building up of queues for service and the resultant ‘back-door’ practices.

The Land Information System

In an attempt to address the issue of the disorganised registry, the government carried out a number of studies. The initial study proposed microfilming or scanning of the paper documents. Another, financed by USAID, recommended indexing the land records and setting up a process to implement the procedure.

The intention was to introduce some mechanism in the registry that would enable an expedited storage, access and retrieval of land records to enhance service delivery.

The studies also reviewed the evolution of the different land administration systems operating in Uganda, concluding that the land offices in the country (Bukalasa; Mityana, Mukono, Mbarara and Fort Portal) were in a very bad situation because of poor record storage, ill equipping, poor staffing and out of date records.

Due to land having become a commodity, criminal elements had multiplied and land brokers and speculators were taking advantage of the disorganisation to cheat unsuspecting genuine landowners.  What was also evident was that these efforts were many but were not addressing the problem and therefore were not advising useful corrective measures.

In 1996 another study was done by Swede Survey to advise on a more sustainable measure; the development of a phased programme for a Computerised Land Register and Land Information System.

It recommended the rehabilitation and preservation of the paper-based documents; scanning as opposed to the more traditional microfilming due to the related advantage of storing, retrieval and archiving; the development and elaboration of a Land Information System (LIS), and a pilot test. The effect of all these interventions by the government was not much and their implementation was not carried out due to a lack of budget.

It was not until 2002 that the implementation of the recommendations that had been made started. Implementation started off with the initiating; sorting; indexing and scanning of the registry records relating to the Districts of Kampala, Mpigi and Wakiso with support from USAID and then KCC under the SPEED Project.  The intention was to complete a basic computer based database for that area.

At about this time, Government was implementing a project known as the Second Private Sector Competitiveness Project (PSCP II) located within the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda (PSFU) to address the ‘easing of doing business’ in Uganda.

Government recognised that land and real estate constitute one of the most important assets and yet the value of these assets and their economic usefulness is often jeopardised by insecurity of property rights arising out of inappropriate or unclear legislation and non-existent or ambiguous land records.

In order to promote private sector development in Uganda there had to be an enhancement of the efficient use of land and land information. The Land registry, therefore, had a bearing on the ‘easing of doing business’ in Uganda. Accordingly, in 2006, a comprehensive programme for the computerisation of the Land Registry was introduced into the PSCP II as a ‘Land Component’.

The land component within the PSCP II project was worth US$ 23 million and was intended to complete the rehabilitation of dilapidated land records and secure them in electronic form throughout the country, develop a National Land Information System and establish a Land Information System Centre, construct twenty one Ministry Zonal Offices, review and harmonise all land related laws, revamp, modernise and retool the School of Surveying and Land Management, make a complete Inventory of all Government Land, and enhance the capacities of the technical staff to support and sustain these land sector reforms.

Why the intervention?

As noted above land had become a commodity and was being dealt in as any other economic activity. The Land Registry was, however, structured to respond to the slow pace of land transactions as they were before the era of the Real Estate Developers and Agents.

The available land information was inadequate, poorly stored and managed, and the land related legal framework was out dated with some relevant laws dating as far back as the 1920s. Administrative inefficiencies born of inadequate structures, staffing and emoluments were aplenty, and the existing paper land registers had been degraded to an extent that made it a primary concern to rehabilitate and preserve them.

As noted ‘back-door’ practices had been created and had undermined not only the very integrity of the Registry but also public confidence in the registry and other related land sector operations thus creating an environment that was in direct contradiction to one for competitive business in Uganda. There was an urgent and real need to modernise and re-engineer Land sector procedures and practices.

Finally, in February 2010 government, through the PSFU, engaged M/s IGN France International to lead a consortium of technical experts with support from the World Bank to design, install and implement a Land Information System with the intention of addressing the shortcomings of the manual system, restoring the integrity of the Land Registry and ensuring modernization of the Land Registry operations to meet the needs of a growing economy.

Tasks implemented

There was mass rehabilitation of records, conversion from manual record management and registry operations to an Electronic Documents Management System, leading into the establishment of an efficient land records information management system. The system intends to improve the reliability and completeness of land title records and associated transactions.

There was a skilling of the land administration human resource to enable it to serve the public more efficiently and effectively and to better support a dynamic private sector led economy.

Ministry services were moved closer to its clientele at Cadaster Zones created regionally, overlapping surveys were harmonized to correct errors caused by surveys that were executed without reference to the national geodetic control network and to ensure that information pertaining to registered property accurately identifies the location of each property relative to other parcels.

The School of Surveying and Land Management was retooled to accelerate the production of qualified surveying and land management technicians needed to support a growing demand in both the private and public sectors.

Establishment of Ministry Zonal Offices

In order to ease land transactions for its clientele the Ministry cut up the country into twenty one Cadaster zonal areas at Arua, Masindi, Gulu, Lira, Jinja, Mbale, Mukono, Wakiso, Mbarara, Masaka, Kabarole, Kampala, Kibaale, Kabale, Rukungiri, Mityana, Mpigi, Luweero, Tororo, Soroti and Moroto.

Thirteen of these have so far been constructed/renovated at the Districts of Arua, Masindi, Gulu, Lira, Jinja, Mbale, Mukono, Wakiso, Mbarara, Masaka, Kabarole, Kampala and Kibaale. Six of these are part of the LIS Pilot. The LIS Pilot has been set up to test the efficacy of the designed LIS. The customization; connecting and networking of the LIS software is planned to go on up to February 2014.

The Software/Applications used in the installation of the LIS include: GRM Registry, which is used for the processing and management of land transactions; GRM Multi-Cadaster, used for managing land parcels, creating deed plans and maps. The two applications are linked to constitute the LIS.

IT equipment (Hardware and Software) procurement & delivery has been done and these include computers, barcode scanners and printers. The training of Ministry staff did not go off as was expected mainly because there was no budget to recruit assistance to handle issues of cleaning, vetting, scanning etc and had to use the same staff that should have been getting LIS trained and their confidence built through a hands-on practice. This shortfall in training has necessitated a startup period of the Zonal offices of half day, to use the other half for training.

A total of 492,000 land title records have been converted into digital copies; 16,509 cadastral map sheets and 5,843 maps covering the Pilot area (and Bugiri) have been scanned and linked to the Registry digital information.

The inclusion of Topographic and Cadastral Data mapping out areas belonging to Uganda Wild life Authority, Uganda National Roads Authority, Ministry of Works and Transport and National Forestry Authority has been done. After the 2nd phase of the LIS implementation any application that falls on such lands shall be automatically rejected by the LIS system. For the moment we are still relying on the ‘human factor’.


This intervention in the Land Registry shall exponentially increase on its efficiency regarding storage, access, and retrieval of land information. The users shall have an expedited service in an environment of eliminated ‘back-door’ transactions, forgeries and graft.

Service will be more efficient and speedy. Ultimately courts, banks and mortgage finance institutions, and real Estate Agents will have special online access and shall not have to trek to the registry to transact. Any landowner will be able to visit the registry, virtually, and view their records without being able to alter any information. Revenue shall increase exponentially.

All manual operational related problems such as multiple allocations of plots, altering of land records, land use abuses, encroachments on roads and road reserves and wrong and overlapping surveys will no longer happen.

Rampant subdivisions, amendments and falsification survey information on land titles will no longer be possible. It will also be possible to track a transaction and be able establish exactly where any problem that has occurred happened and who was responsible.

Finally, I need to state that the success of all these measure relies so much on officialdom understanding that the measures that have been put in place do not come cheap and for sustainability there shall be a pretty penny to pay.

Gabindadde-Musoke is  the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development

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