Foreign funders, clueless Parliamentarians modernizing land laws with technology risking Sri Lanka’s Land Sovereignty
Posted on January 15th, 2021

Despite decades of development of formal laws and tools for modelling legal knowledge for land rights by lawyers in developed countries, Sri Lankan lawyers stagnated preferring to work with statues of 1888 to 1927, Penal code 1883, Registration Ordinance of 1927 & Notaries Ordinance of 1907.The said countries have systematically moved on to digital land registries with data protection laws to protect their owners. We are receiving funds to leapfrog on to technology and the Australian law called title registration.

Who wants deed system, who doesn’t want deed system?

Who wants title registration, who shouldn’t want title registration are some of the fundamental questions the public need to ask but, they are never informed.

Can a Sri Lankan lawyer explain the legal principles of the foreign law related to the e- registration and are there any books to refer?

Can lawyers feel satisfied of their ignorance of the law?

No one can answer these questions as land law has become the subject of foreign experts and parliamentarians who listen to them and pass laws without a clue. Justice Minister s appointing committees to revise laws but cabinet is annulling existing gazettes/circulars and passing new statutes. None with any forethought or consultation of stakeholders.

It is unfortunate that since independence no government has seen fit to review colonial laws & revise them to suit post-independent sovereign Sri Lanka. Nor have they introduced the subjects at the university and law college for Sri Lankan lawyers to be experts to advice the nation.

We are continuing with archaic laws which are hundreds of years old, yet these laws provide the basic & fundamental rationale needed to re-write them to what suits Sri Lanka & its citizens.

It is a divine loophole for those who want to grab our lands. International funding bodies are hijacking this effort by sending their teams to research land systems in countries and recommending proposals advantageous to their global privatization objectives.

Governments and policy makers have yet to understand the larger context of this danger when archaic land laws get suddenly annulled to be replaced with new laws advantageous to international players and they have found the art of giving funding to obtain government approval. 

This is how Bim Saviya or Title Registration Act 21 of 1998 got secretly passed without inputs of our lawyers and how Bim Saviya was rolled out because of foreign funding.

It was in 2007 that funding was given to commence title registration from deed system. The funding bodies did not anticipate the confusions and complexities in transferring from deed system to title registration when in Dec 2011, the US Embassy advertised for an Electronic Land Hub for a National Land Titling Program following 2010 USAID report titled Land Administration and Protection of Property”.

The US Embassy nor USAID anticipated that only 700,000 deeds would have taken 13 years (2007 to 2020) to be transferred to title out of 12million blocks of land. The transfer cost $2.5m a year as per 2018-2019 Title Commissioner’s Report.

How long will it take to do 12million blocks of land?

What is the hurry to implement e-land register? 

Funding bodies expect governments to roll out what they want because they give money.

Drastic changes come with funding & demands no scrutiny before implementing. 

In the hurry to please foreign funding bodies. Sri Lanka is blindly setting up an e-land registry without data protection, back office owned and controlled by a foreign company, lawyers clueless, inserting the title registered 700,000 entries, with daily notorized documents changing, together with the 50% fraudulently entered deeds (as per Land Registrar)

This clearly indicates our land records are sitting on a vulnerable scenario unless authorities realize that protection of data, protection of land is more important than taking funding by foreign funding bodies. 

Putting the cart before the horse in a race to please foreign funding bodies is going to land Sri Lanka and land owners in litigation troubles that our lawyers will not be able to solve.

With bim saviya foreign law being implemented, with data ownership out of sovereign Sri Lanka’s control, Sri Lanka is walking into major trouble. Sri Lanka’s lawyers will have no place. Bim Saviya being a foreign law will mean foreign lawyers will determine litigation especially since land is being privatized for multinational companies on the justification of ‘investment’.

The reason for this is that the notary entries are coming without a law. As per Notary Ordinance everything is subject to ethical rule. Given the current circumstance of global corruptions, Section 33 of this Ordinance needs to be urgently revised and amended to ensure all deeds are validated properly and Notary is culpable for errors.

The other reason is that the Registration of Documents Ordinance does not hold Registrar accountable for registering fraudulent deeds. He is responsible for only ensuring land measurement and extent of land is given properly. This ordinance must be amended to hold land registrar accountable for accepting fraudulent deeds. All these loopholes the foregin funding bodies know more than our lawyers / MPs or advisors.

Data protection is a must to ensure land owners data is protected prior to launching any e-land register.

What good is it to simply boast of launching an electronic land registrar system that is full of vulnerable areas disadvantageous to the land owner and providing opportunities for fraudsters.

Australia which follows the title registration system and is the origin of the Torrens Law referred to in Sri Lanka as bim saviya, has ensured land owners are protected. They have all laws in place. Legally qualified academics and lawyers are fully aware of all the land registries and how they operate across Australia. They are regularly revising their systems to benefit land owners. You cannot find any land frauds as a result of the legal set up and the system set up in place with checks and balances.

In Sri Lanka, we have only the NIC to identify an owner. The land registration process is very poor and needs to be properly streamlined. If we are to be following foreign systems, we must first ensure we have a system similar to that which exist in those countries. Simply plugging one element and claiming it to be similar to foreign systems is totally unacceptable.

Why is the Bar Association, the legal fraternity tasked to bring to the public areas of concern not putting forward proposals and holding public seminars related to the drastic land changes happening of late?

Why does the BASL not insist that the Central Bank Financial Regulations Act 6 of 2006 which included notaries and lawyers within the scope of the Act and which included all deeds and registrations be first adopted before any insertion into the e-land registry.

We have a land reform commission – what is it doing? 

We have a national planning council – what is it doing? 

Where are all the officials tasked to ensure the land sovereignty of Sri Lanka and land ownership of Sri Lankans and the State? 

Why do they not see that we are loosely and without properly planning changing gazettes, amending land laws and creating a bigger problem related to land. If we do not stop the current hurry to digitalize and properly plan the digitalizing process first, Sri Lanka’s land sovereignty is at risk and land owners will face unimaginable problems.

Shenali D Waduge

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