The National Land Agency (NLA), an Executive Agency which brings together the Government's core land information functions (land titling, surveys and mapping, land valuation, and crown land management) under one umbrella, has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at improving service delivery, reducing time for the processing of titles and ensuring the security of documents.
Elizabeth Stair, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), National Land Agency (NLA). tells JIS News that two years after receiving Executive Agency status, the Agency has streamlined its business processes, trained staff, upgraded its facilities, and significantly improved its turnaround time for delivering titles and other land related services.
All these efforts have been undertaken to support the strategies employed by financial and quasi-financial institutions to develop the real estate market. The Agency sees itself as playing a pivotal role in this process and has been developing alliances/partnerships with some of these institutions.
Statistics for the January to March 2003 quarter show that the NLA issued 3,963 new Certificates of Title, exceeding the target of 2,250, of which 1,542 included titles with survey plans. These plans were done by the NLA's Surveys and Mapping Division.
With regard to transactions on existing titles such as transfer of mortgages, there were 22,014 documents prepared in January to March 2003, with clients receiving them within 11 days, down from the 17-day processing period in the previous quarter, October to December 2002.
"There has been a marked reduction in the turnaround time for the pre- checking of plans, as a result of business process improvements that were carried out with the assistance of external stakeholders. The period for pre-checking was significantly reduced from 26 weeks to eight weeks," Mrs. Stair notes.
This improvement in turnaround time occurred with increased numbers of plans being checked. In the last quarter of the Financial Year 2002/03, some 3,912 survey plans were checked, of which the target was 3,510.
"Currently, we have 135,000 parcels in Kingston and St. Andrew, and St. James in the database, representing 20 per cent of the parcels of land islandwide," the CEO points out.
In order to enable planning for development in a more orderly fashion, the NLA is in the process of preparing a digital map, which shows land ownership boundaries, values and all other related information on a particular parcel of land.
Additionally, she says that a digital street centreline would also be prepared to facilitate the linking of the land parcels in the digital map to the road network. This use of digital mapping is also being done in St. Catherine, under the Land Administration and Management Project (LAMP) funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to regularize land ownership.
"Although we have not yet succeeded in reducing the turnaround time on land titling matters to an acceptable level, in line with our customers' expectations, I want to assure you that we are working assiduously to address the matter," she says.
Mrs. Stair mentions that under the Public Sector Modernization Project (PSMP), the World Bank, along with the Government of Jamaica, funded several projects to assist the Agency. Some of these programmes, she said, include the training of staff in customer service and the 'Train the Trainer' programme, which was successfully completed to facilitate the development of staff.
The Agency is now fully staffed, with persons having gone through a process of assessment and interview as stipulated under the Executive Agency Act. On July 21, Attorney-at-Law, Alfred McPherson, assumed the position of Director, Land Titles/Registrar of Titles, fully establishing the entire management team of the Agency under performance based contracts.
The CEO says that technical training has also been offered to some officers in the Agency as well as information technology (IT) courses at basic and advanced levels.
Meanwhile, to provide for faster, more efficient processing of titles, the NLA is in the final phase of implementing a fully computerised system to support its titling and surveying operations.
This computerised system is also a response to the numerous reports of fraud and corruption as identified in a forensic study conducted by local and overseas investigators in 2002.
Under the project, which is being funded by the World Bank at a cost of US$1.24 million, the NLA is aiming to reduce the time for transactions on existing titles from 15 days to five days; decrease mortgage transactions from an average of 15 working days to between five and eight days; and provide for the checking of survey plans within five weeks or less by 2005.
Michael Hamilton, Project Manager for the Land Registration and Parcel Data Management System Project, tells JIS News that the project, which began in January of this year, will be completed way ahead of the 12-month to two-year period usually required to undertake a project of this magnitude.
He said the Land Titles and Surveys and Mapping Divisions of the agency has undergone an overhaul, with a "massive" training exercise taking place over the months, which saw employees participating in computer and paralegal training.
Mentioning changes to take place under the new system, he informs JIS News that customers will be required to submit information using prepared forms available at the office, instead of the current method, thereby making it easier to verify information. "With the current system, there is the issue of interpretation of individual documents. This standardization will also speed up the registration process," he notes.
Mr. Hamilton further adds that with the new procedure, documents will be scanned upon submission. "This will tighten our security and make things faster, because when we scan, the images will be available for use for everyone who needs it," he says.
The process of registering titles and making changes on existing titles will be integrated into the updating of records on property values islandwide (Land Valuation Roll).
In order to allow for greater access to information, the Agency has used IT to create a web-based service, eLandjamaica. This will reduce the need for customers to go physically to the agency's offices and allow for access in the comfort of their offices and homes at times convenient to them.
Sherlock Glenister, NLA's Technical Support Manager and Project Manager for eLandjamaica, explains that the creation of the Internet-based application will enable clients to access information using property address, valuation number, deposited plan number, strata plan number and volume and folio numbers. Customers will be able to view and print data for a specific property, copies of land valuation property report, certificate of title, caveat card, deposited plan, strata plan or enclosure plan.
Also provided is an interactive map system, through which users can locate various districts and identify the general location of properties using a geographical information system (GIS). A map of the area can be printed showing topographic feature on the ground, including roads and vegetation.
Some 380,000 scanned certificates of title, 1,500 strata plans and 4,500 deposited plans are accessible through eLandjamaica, with an additional 680,000 valuation roll reports, which provide information on properties that are recorded on the valuation roll.
These services will also enable clients to use a valuation number to find the volume and folio numbers for a property or vice versa. A valuation number is required when going to the Tax Office to pay property taxes.
Mr. Glenister informs JIS News that this service will prove very helpful to institutions such as banks, mortgage companies, building societies and the National Housing Trust (NHT), which provide financing for property purchase.
Information on caveats that are on land titles will also be provided by eLandjamaica. These caveats give an indication if the title has been used for mortgage financing or if there are any other restrictions on the use of the title.
The implementation of the system was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at a cost of US$170,000, along with assistance from PSMP and the IDB (LAMP project). Potential customers and subscribers can gain access by logging on to the Agency's website, www.nla.gov.jm
, and clicking on the link, eLandjamaica.
Concomitant with the web-based project, was the launch of the NLA's Citizens' Charter earlier this year, which Land and Environment Minister, Dean Peart, endorsed as "underlining the commitment to serve".
Minister Peart also urged members of the public to submit the correct information when conducting business with the NLA. "Incorrect information has been found in many cases, to be one of the chief reasons for delays in processing. If we work together, our achievements will be great. I encourage clients also to make as many enquiries as is needed about this service," he added.
The NLA was established as an Executive Agency on April 1, 2001 under the Government's Public Sector Modernisation Project, designed to improve the level of service to the public.