I recently had the opportunity to organize and take part in an exchange learning visit to Thailand and Vietnam. The visit was aimed at improving the effectiveness of Ethiopia’s land administration system by enhancing stakeholders’ understanding of the sector’s policies and institutional constraints and how to address them through integrated but multi-faceted reforms and programs.
Over the past decade, Ethiopia has successfully implemented the worlds’ largest rural land registration program. The registration is implemented equitably and with clear positive impacts on conflict, productivity, investment, and rental market participation. However, constraints still exist. There’s a disconnect between urban and rural registration and administration, stagnant policy revisions remain, and there is often weak institutional capacity to act on and implement innovative ideas with the required speed.
When I first entertained the idea of heading to the Far East to learn from the experiences there, I was very skeptical and thought Vietnam and Thailand were just way too far… and I don’t just mean geographically. Once I arrived there, I realized that I was wrong and was pleasantly surprised to discover lots of very useful lessons that can help to initiate, improve, or at least reaffirm the course of Ethiopia’s land administration system.
Both Vietnam and Thailand have a dynamic land administration system based on a long-term vision and strategy with strong links to social and economic development. In other words, the system’s creation and implementation are far from being ad hoc.
Four important areas are useful to Ethiopia in its current effort to improve its own land administration sector.
First, the practice of keeping land policy revision dynamic. In Ethiopia, land policy is blended into the constitution and no effort has been made to make policy revisions. Vietnam and Thailand have shown that making regular policy revisions and timely adjustments help the countries to quickly cope with challenges that arise, both in urban and rural areas. For Ethiopia, this means staying away from the usual emotional, extreme and polarized ‘policy’ debates.
Second, the need for an integration of urban and rural land registration systems. The responsibility for land administration in Ethiopia is divided among different institutions. This complicates things and has a negative effect on the coordination and integration of efficient service delivery. In Vietnam and Thailand, the governments have a single registration system for both urban and rural administration and have created a significant space for the contribution of the private sector while building supervision and leadership capacity in the government.
Third, expropriation is not the sole strategy for urban development or expansion. In both Vietnam and Thailand, there is a national framework for determining land prices and valuation of property. In Vietnam, the land price is updated every year and publicized for all to know. Over 200 national and international private valuation companies are currently working in the country. In Ethiopia, there is no standardized guideline for determining value of property on land which makes it frequently controversial and a significant source of public discontent.
Last, but not least, is the stepwise approach that Vietnam and Thailand have been following in an effort to lay the foundation for a sustainable land administration system. They understand that intricate human, financial and institutional aspects require an incremental handling of the building of such a system. This is a good lesson for Ethiopia which is struggling to establish a new land administration system, almost from scratch, and seeks to do so in a short period of time.
So, despite my early concerns that the Far East may be too far to provide solutions to some of Ethiopia’s land concerns, I soon learned otherwise. Solutions to development challenges can come from any location and any culture.