Land and corruption - a global concern

In November 2011 the world’s population passed the 7 billion mark, a milestone greeted with understandable trepidation. Where are all these people going to live and what will they eat at a time when climate change is threatening the planet’s scarce resources? The pressure on land has never been greater, which is why it is so important that land is transparently and accountably managed, free from corruption and other abuses of power.

Whether it is the corrupt official who takes kickbacks for authorising development in the rainforest or a clerk who asks for a bribe to register a small plot, corruption can endanger livelihoods, promote inequality and distort markets. Where land corruption was identified as a problem by our 2009 Global Corruption Barometer, countries were likely to have weaker economies, lower levels of development, poorer crop yields and less foreign investment.

Corruption in land management strikes when local officials demand bribes for basic administrative steps, but also when high-level political decisions are unduly influenced, leaving ordinary citizens to pay the price.

Putting a price tag on the right to land: administrative corruption

Administrative corruption involves bribes and illegal payments made to register land, acquire official documents and approve building permits. Around the world more than one out of 10 people reported paying bribes when dealing with ordinary land issues.

Citizens taking their corruption problems to Transparency International’s anti-corruption legal advice centres often raise land and property problems.

In Pakistan, one man found his land suddenly occupied by a gangster, and local authorities refused to take up the case. In Azerbaijan, a shop owner who had tried in vain to secure planning permission from local authorities had to watch as they bulldozed his store.

In Kenya, where a 2010 raid uncovered thousands of land files locked in filing cabinets of public officials hoping to collect bribes, it was six in ten. A study in India estimates that US$700 million worth of bribes are paid annually by users of the country’s land administration services.

If ordinary people’s grip on their property can be won, or lost, by the exchange of a cash-filled envelope or in return for a favour, what happens when people with more money to offer take an interest in large scale land purchases?

Whose land is it anyway? Political corruption

Political corruption involves the distorted conduct and control over a country’s resources. Several business sectors that have an interest in how land is used and managed are perceived to resort to bribery to influence policy makers: construction, real estate and public works all ranked bottom of the 2011 Bribe Payers Index out of 19 sectors surveyed.

Land may be ceded to shopping malls, housing developments and green industries. Spain’s housing boom has provided several suspicious cases. In one, it was discovered that 30,000 homes had been illegally built in the town without ever being approved and registered. Police arrested local officials and politicians and seized more than US$3 billion in assets and froze 1,000 bank accounts.

Re-zoning of forest lands for other purposes such as roads, agriculture or homes is driving people from their land and exacerbating deforestation estimated to be responsible for 15 percent of global warming pollution.

A green resource curse?

Our Global Corruption Report: Climate Change warned that big land buyers might be targeting countries where land rights are less likely to be recognised or enforced by officials and courts. For example, a land deal with a biofuel company in Sierra Leone worth US $400 million led to reports of displaced communities from dozens of villages, despite assurances that only ‘marginal’ lands would be used.

In Colombia the cultivation of palm oil has expanded rapidly, but there have been reports of land being illegitimately acquired, and marginalised communities forced from their land by paramilitaries hired by private interests.

Protecting rights to land and livelihood

New pressures on land use will create new challenges in ensuring the basic human right to land tenure is respected – especially for indigenous populations and rural communities.

Some national governments are taking steps to build transparent, effective and accountable land management systems, especially certification and registration of ownership. In countries with the technological know-how, the public can track land transactions and ownership on the internet. Lithuania, for example, has adopted land reforms, including e-governance, that publish land activities on the web. Information can also be posted on community billboards or shared at local meetings discussing changes to land registration procedures.

The problem of improving land governance should be on the agenda when governments meet at the Durban Climate Change from 28 November 2011 to talk climate change. With hundreds of millions of dollars expected to flow to climate change projects and the value of land soaring, the right to land cannot depend on the ability to grease the palms of public officials.

Resources

Corruption in the Land Sector, Transparency International/FAO Working Paper

More on forestry and climate change on the Transparency International blog

FAO paper: Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests

FAO paper: Towards Improved Land Governance

The World Bank

UN-Habitat

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org

Supplementary downloads

Latest

Support Transparency International

The terrible consequences of police corruption in South Africa

What do we do when those mandated to protect us are serving other interests than public safety and security? In South Africa, police corruption leaves the public exposed to high rates of crime, and causes distrust of the police service while allowing crime to flourish.

Why do DRC citizens report such high levels of corruption?

People's experiences with corruption in the DRC are far worse than in most other African countries. Why is corruption so prevalent in the DRC, why is bribery so commonplace and why do two thirds of citizens feel powerless?

Is Mauritius at a tipping point in the fight against corruption?

According to the latest GCB for Africa, very few Mauritians who accessed public services, like health care and education, had to pay a bribe for those services. But given recent scandals, citizens still see certain groups and institutions as corrupt.

Countries must be more transparent when investigating transnational corruption

Supervisory and justice systems should be transparent and accountable so that the public can assess their performance.

Resilient institutions

Reducing corruption is an important component of the sustainable development agenda, and one that all state parties have an obligation to address. Although corruption is often thought of as a ‘third-world problem’, institutions in the Global North play an important role in the corruption cycle, and are therefore an essential part of the solutions.

In whose interest? Political integrity and corruption in Africa

What accounts for the wide disparity in peoples’ perceptions of the integrity of elected representatives in different countries? In this piece, we will to look at various forms of political corruption, how they manifest in African countries and what can be done to promote political integrity.

Cidadãos opinam sobre a corrupção em África

A décima edição do Barómetro Global de Corrupção (GCB) – África revela que embora a maioria das pessoas na África acreditem que os níveis de corrupção aumentaram no seu país, elas também se sentem otimistas, pois acreditam que os cidadãos podem fazer a diferença no combate à corrupção.

Les citoyens africains expriment leur opinion sur la corruption

La 10e édition du Baromètre mondial de la corruption – Afrique révèle que la plupart des Africains pensent que la corruption a augmenté dans leur pays, mais aussi que la majorité d’entre eux s’estiment capables, en tant que citoyens, de changer la donne dans la lutte contre la corruption.

Global Corruption Barometer - Africa 2019

The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa reveals that more than half of all citizens surveyed in 35 African countries think corruption is getting worse in their country. 59 per cent of people think their government is doing badly at tackling corruption.

Citizens speak out about corruption in Africa

The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa, reveals that while most people in Africa feel corruption increased in their country, a majority also feel optimistic that they can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Social Media

Follow us on Social Media