Centralized systems do not address the main problem in the Lands ministry: lack of trust, transparency and accountability.
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Such technocrats previously used to reject outright computerisation in the early 2000s, but more recently they have been replaced by younger technocrats who embrace the computerization , but with an intention to continue exercising rent-seeking tactics through the electronic systems.
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.
YES, whereas the client-server electronic systems are designed to prevent such fraudulent activities, through in-built checks and balances. However, these can be deliberately switched off and on, in order to selectively allow fraudulent transactions to go through.
Client-server systems therefore work best in environments where the conspiracy to commit fraud is not shared across different levels in the organisation.
It is no longer a secret that in Kenya, we have corruption cartels scattered across the different layers in the public and private sectors that reinforce and protect each other to commit economic crimes.
In short, client-server electronic systems cannot and will never conclusively deal with corruption question. But there is a solution on the table.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
Using blockchain technologies, we will be able to not only distribute the checks-and-balances role across different agencies, but we will remove the ability of technocrats to deliberately and technically sabotage the system.
Blockchain technologies decentralize the ‘trust-element’ and place it in a group of networked computing devices.
This enables land transactions to be validated through peer-to-peer networks that have the logic to automatically review and approve transactions without human intervention.
Furthermore, valid transactions become automatically immutable, meaning that one cannot illegally change them at a later date, or sell the same land parcel twice, as it happens quite often with client-server systems.
The Lands ministry has indeed made a step in the right direction. However, it needs to go a step further and adopt blockchain technologies in their new system.
Otherwise they would simply be automating, rather than stopping corruption at the Lands ministry.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jwalu