The federal government’s renewed efforts to restructure the complicated and scattered land administration system in Ethiopia has met with setbacks that demand a brush-up of the constitution. Officials want to see amendments introduced following the upcoming national dialogue.
The convoluted land administration system is scattered both vertically between federal and regional administrations, as well as horizontally between various ministries, and remains a core problem in increasingly contentious land management policies and property market distortions.
Regional administrations each have their own laws for land administration, and the lack of a federal institution that covers land administration and policy nationwide has made it difficult for even the government to manage natural resources.
The problems have led to renewed efforts to restructure the system, with experts at the Ethiopian Land Administration Professionals Association (ELAPA) recently conducting a series of studies in search of solutions.
The experts recently held a study forum under the title “Recommendations for institutional arrangement reform in Ethiopia’s land administration.”
The Association recommends the formation of a federal institution, be it a Ministry, Commission, or Agency, to govern land administration, and the formation of a think tank that would focus on land-related issues.
The federal offices that currently handle land administration are directorates in the ministries of Agriculture, Urban and Infrastructure Development, and Planning and Development. Regional administrations have their own arrangements, with some administering land via mining departments, or agricultural or natural resource bureaus.
Although land tenure, property valuation, land use, land development and cadaster works should be executed by a single institution to maximize efficiency, each function has been scattered among various institutions within regional administrations.
The Association argues the creation of a single federal institution can curb irregularities in land administration.
However, an article in the constitution that grants regional states the power to administer land poses an insurmountable obstacle in the quest for a federal land administration agency. It is a constitutional deadlock that can only be circumvented via an amendment.
“The constitution states the right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the state and in the peoples of Ethiopia. Thus, it has been difficult to singularize the land-governing body at the federal level. PM Abiy Ahmed instructed that we should at least be able to privatize urban land. Such issues need constitutional amendments. We hope these cases will be addressed in the national dialogue,” said Fanta Dejen, a state minister for Urban and Infrastructure Development.
The federal initiative to unify land administration began more than a decade ago, in 2012. However, the constitutional deadlock, and vested interests from the federal and regional bodies currently handling land administration, have stifled progress.
“Ethiopia’s institutional arrangement for land administration hasn’t been reformed for half a century,” said Zerfu Hailu (PhD), a senior expert at ELAPA who headed the study, during the forum. “Even socialist countries like Vietnam have reformed their land administration structure to include efficient and functional institutions combining regulatory and market-oriented systems.”
He observes Ethiopia implements a dual land administration system, which creates “huge” administrative gaps and policy loopholes, which in turn create opportunities for brokers and speculators.
“The government is losing huge amounts of revenue from land transactions simply because the land administration system is not unified,” said Zerfu. “The constitution states land belongs to the state and peoples of Ethiopia. In reality, it is illegal brokers and speculators and corrupt officials who control the land. There are also no land audits.”
State Minister Fanta has instructed the team of experts under Zerfu to finalize the study and table their recommendations to officials soon.
“The recommendation must be drawn from a scientific land administration model that fits Ethiopia’s federalism,” he said.
The Association is expected to present the recommendations to policy makers soon. But based on lessons from other countries, it concluded that almost all countries utilizing federal systems have a unified land administration ministry at the national level.
“The reason our efforts did not materialize in the past is because there was no political willingness. But now, we are seeing political willingness and commitment from the government,” said Zerfu.
Zerfu is referring to past allegations, and subsequent rejections, from senior EPRDF officials that land experts were attempting to privatize land through institutional unification.