For many reasons, strong property rights are an important ingredient in economic development and prosperity for the people. Without protection of land use rights and a reliable process for transferring those rights, people have less of an incentive to invest their time, energy, or money into the properties that they inhabit and use.
If they or their families will not benefit, they will not invest and improve the land or the buildings. Development and prosperity in any society comes from the development and prosperity of the individual in that society. If the incentives to progress and productivity are destroyed for individuals, they are destroyed for society also.
Ghana has a problem. After government has tried multiple times at developing a fair, functioning, timely, and efficient land administration system, it is still plagued with multiple transfers of the same property, long times before records are recorded, limited access of records, ongoing disputes over boundaries, and selling of land rights not owned by the seller. This is one source of the economic difficulties faced by most Ghanaians, and the courts are drowning in land dispute cases.
One organization is trying to remedy the situation. Bitland is an NGO that is developing a process for entering records using blockchain technology as a backbone. Blockchain is a distributed network where all transactions are transparent, time stamped, traceable and publicly accessible at all times. Strong public-key encryption can make the transactions resistant to arbitrary alteration. Transactions can be entered and verified in a short time, and once they are entered, they are open to public viewing.
These and other characteristics of blockchain technology can be used to address the critical issues with land administration in Ghana. Once the system is in place and property records are entered, buyers can consult the record and know the last owner of property rights, encumbrances involved, disputes over boundaries, and other related issues. Once the records are easy to view, buyers will now know when a sale has been made and who the most recent rightful owner is to deal with. Disputes can be recorded on the record before a potential buyer is involved, easing the burden on the courts and making property owners more secure in their ownership.
The Bitland process is a next logical step for land administration, using online technology to include satellite images, GPS coordinates, landmarks, survey information and other data that make it easier to independently verify the accuracy of any plot of land. The organization is to have both Factom and Epigraph functional in one suite of tools, with a user experience that is simple, straight forward and functional as we make partnerships with the back end development companies. The end result will be to make the system more friendly to all of the parties involved, facilitate transfers, and to ease the burden on the courts.
Approximately 24 communities have demonstrated interest in a pilot project, with the objective of getting all parties involved, from land owners to administrators and we are currently teaching communities how to record the gps coordinates of their properties. The project is expected to be a series local effort that radiate out to include more communities, eventually covering all regions of the country. One of the keys to the success of the system is to have local regional coordinators, or ambassadors, to help train users, promote the local use of the system, and to facilitate the process.
Once property rights are secured, it become easier to borrow with the property held as security, something that is important for many businesses that need cash for operations, cash that might be tied up in land and buildings. Without proper and secure title, lenders often will not risk lending. With proper security in ownership, residents are more likely to invest in property improvements and maintenance, lack of which is presenting a significant challenge to many areas.