As it was widely reported in the newspapers of August 12, 2021, the government in partnership with NMB Bank, has launched a five-year Plot Loan scheme to enable land owners in informal settlements to survey and get title to their land. This was in part a result of the realisation that land owners were finding it difficult to foot the cost of surveying, registering and obtaining title deeds. Hand in hand with the loan, the cost of surveying has been reduced from Sh150,000 to Sh130,000. The project is being piloted in Mbarali District before rolling out to other areas,
The Bank will advance to the plot owner, a micro-loan to meet the cost, and the owner will pay back the loan at 10 percent interest over a period of two years.
The bank will hold on to the title until the loan is repaid. This, it is envisaged, will stimulate land owners to take up titles and thus benefit from security of tenure, as well as enhance their possibility of obtaining finance (loans) to propel development activities.
This is a commendable initiative by the government, for, much as many people hold land without an official certificate of title, modern day land administration envisages that land would be titled and registered.
The government needs also to widen its tax collection base.
Given the irregularity and congestion found in informal settlements, it may be tempting to focus on titling, leaving aside issues of land use planning, at individual and neighbourhood levels. Many properties in unplanned areas cannot be accessed by motor vehicles. One’s front verandah may be facing another person’s toilet!
It is therefore important that some minimum land use planning standards be applied to these areas. In other words, titling must be done on the basis of an underlying land use plan. The standard land use planning regulations may be impossible to enforce without extensive demolitions but some minimum is required eg vehicular access to all properties in an area designated for titling.
The standard size for roads cannot be achieved, but there is need to define the minimum, that a road in an informal settlement should be.
If plots are titled without conformation to some land use standards, the usefulness of the title may diminish since the value of inaccessible land is low and financiers will find it risky to use an inaccessible piece of land as collateral for a loan.
Past experience has it that property owners in informal settlements are wary of being disturbed; for example few are willing to cede part of their land for public uses such as roads. In the case of the Makongo area, for example, it was not possible to make meaningful changes to land lots to make room for standard roads. Whatever was existing was taken as the norm.
The government, therefore needs to have legal powers to carry out some form of land regularisation.
Fortunately, such powers exist, in both the Land Act 1999, as well as in the Urban Planning Act 2007. These powers could be used to declare an earmarked area to be a regularisation area.
After that, and working with communities, a land use plan could be developed, accommodating as far as possible, the basic requirements of property owners, the minimum requirement being that each property fronts a road.
This will almost certainly involve changes to the size and orientation of the various land lots.
Systematic titling - i.e.: covering each and every property in a declared area - can then be undertaken.
The government may also think of how the private sector can assist. For years, this private sector has been struggling to carry out regularisation and surveying of land in informal settlements, collaborating with local government authorities and communities themselves, but the going has always been tough. There are many lessons to draw from this past experience.
Successful achievement of this initiative can be envisaged, in a framework of good land governance, where there is maximum cooperation between the central government, local government authorities, communities, NGOs and the private sector.
That way, the incidence of informal settlements in urban areas may fond a long-term solution.