Honduras: beating corruption in land registration
Officially it takes 10 months to register land in Honduras. In reality, the average citizen will wait six years to secure his or her home. Yet not everyone has to stand in line.
According to a recent report by Asociación por una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), Transparency International’s partner in Honduras, one wealthy applicant received his title for 25,000 hectares in only two hours, despite the fact that the law prohibits titles of more than 5,000 hectares per applicant.
Vulnerable citizens in Honduras are being denied a secure home because of corruption and mismanagement in land registration, the report shows.
Published in a leading national newspaper, the study focuses on El Instituto de la Propiedad (the national Property Institute), which oversees the implementation of property law in the country. The impact from ASJ’s work has been immediate, prompting swift action from the government and an official investigation is under way.
Evicting the poorest
For decades Hondurans have built homes on deserted fields and mountainsides, sometimes paying for the land, and sometimes not. Even if they do pay, most residents don’t have a legally binding land title saying that they own the property.
As the value of unregistered land soared, reports have emerged of groups and individuals who seek to cash in on this insecurity by purchasing huge tracts of land occupied by poor citizens only to force them from their homes or demand extortionate rent.
Read Isabella’s* story here
The national Property Institute was created in 2004 to address this issue by providing citizens with official land titles. Yet the report suggests corruption and mismanagement are threatening to derail its work.
Examining allegations of corruption, the report found evidence of widespread abuse, from politicians using land titles to buy votes from impoverished citizens to officials handing out desirable government land in exchange for bribes.
In other cases nepotistic appointments and extended periods of paid leave have left offices struggling to function.
It means people are free from 'land owners' who use their strongmen to charge 'rent' with the constant threat of eviction. It means those who have little more than the land they live on are able to pass on something of value to their children.
Thousands of Hondurans are being denied this because of corruption. ”
– Ludim Alaya, Asociación por una Sociedad más Justa
The report prompted the government to hire a private auditing firm to look at all the claims of corruption at the Property Institute.
Facing allegations in the report that some staff may have been hired for their connections rather than skills, the government has fired the board of directors and hired new members. Also, a process has been introduced to assess staff members to ensure they are qualified for their jobs and are not involved in corrupt activities.
So far, 400 staff members have been fired, according to newspaper reports. It’s a promising start, but more needs to be done to ensure these changes continue. We’ll be keeping watch to ensure this happens.
– Ludim Alaya
Fighting corruption, one citizen at a time
While we fight for systemic change, our staff are also at work in communities helping citizens to secure the documents they need to feel safe in their homes.
With training and guidance, we’ve already helped thousands to achieve registration – people like Isabella, who now has her land title certificate after 23 years of insecurity – and we’re working to empower many more.
*Name has been changed.