‘Buyer be aware’ made simple: A ground breaking concept for Sri Lanka for the benefit of land owners, banks, and notaries
By Kirthimala Gunasekera and A.C.Dedigama
This article is to disseminate knowledge to all real estate professionals, notaries, lawyers, land owners and especially students of Law as it may provide valuable insights into their future profession. Stakeholder questions, constructive criticism, motivation, and a divergence of viewpoints are required at this stage.
‘Buyer be aware’
‘Buyer be aware’, is the law prescribed for land buyers. Today it is a vexing experience for any buyer to observe this rule as related information connected to a land are found scattered and shrouded in various deeds and regulations of Government departments. Many readers who have had the experience of purchasing land would know that accessing information relating to ownership and accessing information relating to regulations governing lands is not dissimilar to finding a needle in a hay stack.
Many would have found after purchasing lands, that they cannot be used for the purpose for which they were purchased, or that they cannot be subdivided, as they are subject to the rules of numerous organisations and Authorities such as Road Development, Coast Conservation and River Reservations, Local Government, UDA, Environmental, Reclamation Board etc; [a non ending list not mentioned here for want of space].
Even with the best of searches being done with a Notary, the land may belong to someone else because the buyer may fall victim to fraud, in the absence of assured methods of identifying owners.
Searching for land information made easy
The Survey Department of Sri Lanka is on the threshold of breaking new frontiers in their profession to resolve this problem by extending beyond its traditional applications of mapping, to establish a Land Information System [the LIS] which is a groundbreaking concept in Sri Lanka. The ‘Land Information Systems’, is the infrastructure that allows users to access the Government’s significant land and geographic information resources from a one stop ‘shop’ with the help of the Global Information System [GIS].
It is a platform to capture and store, up-to-date land information or a record of interests in land (i.e. rights, restrictions and responsibilities), that are presently scattered in multiple Government agencies and confine it to a web site. In so doing the site usually includes a geometric description of land parcels, links to other records, description of the nature of the interests, the ownership or control of those interests and the value of the parcel and its improvements.
The GIS branch of the Survey Department has the capability to do the GIS related work based on the user demand. It will in the future assure even the identity of owners thus preventing that aspect of land fraud.
This application is an evolutionary step forward from the simple plan of a surveyor which provided simply the boundaries and extent of a land and to now explode to a new world abundant with a wealth of information. Land Information Systems work well in all developed nations, the system is expected to work in close partnership with the land registry providing the answers to buyers as to ‘who’ owns the land, ‘where’ is the land and ‘how much’ is available’ for the purpose for which a land is purchased.
What is heartening is that in the future, information relating to all lands will be at the click of a computer button. The traditional means of maintaining the information on paper records, maps and plans are outdated and the searches will be very simple. Presently the web site is ‘www.lis.survey.gov.lk/lismap/’
How to use the web site‘http://www.lis.survey.gov.lk/lismap/’- with the ‘twelve digit plan number’ to determine land information
The Survey Department has to date completed one million land parcels under the cadastral system. The cadastral plans given to the owners by the Government, for their lands, will have a designated ‘Twelve Digit Number’; this is the unique identification number of the land similar to the ID number of a person.
A prospective purchaser or a notary could punch in the 12 digit number of the owner’s plan number to obtain the information required. Work is currently in progress in developing the LIS platform; the information available at present online are the Lot numbers, extent, situation and the boundaries and the information is available 24/7.
The 12 digits of the plan correspond to the digital numbers of the Province in which the land is situated [two numbers], district and village in which the land is situated [four numbers], the entire cadastral block of which the land is a portion [two numbers] and the block number belonging to the owner [four numbers].
The land survey system has moved on to the digital era in which lands and their situation are denoted by digital numbers. The names that were used in describing lands, such as Delgahawatte, with village names such as Pitakotte etc. with boundaries being referred to by the names of the land of owners in the adjacent blocks such as North by Dingiri Banda’s land etc. will be a thing of the past. The stake holders have cooperated technology is moving fast to help the public with information [How to register births and deaths, how and where to obtain copies of the certificates refer - http://www.rgdept.lk/document/Atornycan.aspx ]
Unfortunately improvements to the land law for Sri Lanka begin with foreign reports and foreign research programs.
The need to consult, the need to innovate ideas and the need to improve with interaction and cooperation between the practical and the academic world are glaringly evident in Sri Lanka.
Over the past decade interest in land administration and Geographic information systems [LIS/GIS] has been overwhelming in many countries. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka these matters have not been met with enthusiasm. As a result the improvements that are designed for the Real Estate market, in our country begin only when investigations and reports are made by foreign organisations.
The World Bank and the FAO had reported, as far back as the early 1990’s with regard to the main problems relating to property rights in Sri Lanka; they were
1] The absence of an effective land administrative system.
The lack of access to the resource information when planners and stakeholders in development activities needed easy access.
2] The information relating to land being dispersed in various.
3] Government Departments not easily retrievable and accessible and that too only in hard copy format.
In the year 2000 FAO had published a report after a regional work shop, focusing on existing land resource information in the Asia Pacific region. Countries that participated were Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Myanmar.
The report recommended the establishment of the Land Information System [LIS] described, to resolve the above issues and the operation had commenced in all the countries mentioned afore.
The GIS to improve the ‘Deed Registration system’, which is suitable to Sri Lanka
According to the Performance Report of the Survey Department of Sri Lanka, measures are currently underway to organize and develop the Survey Institution to be the knowledge center of South Asia; the vision is to produce land information technologist for Sri Lanka and the regional market.
This is considered by many to be a very good opportunity to improve the ailing Deed registration system to prevent land fraud, and prevent extra legal documentation that are executed mainly in the condominium sector.
[Article by Emeritus Professor Suri Ratnapala http://www.ft.lk/article/426519/The-social-and-economic-cost-of-uncertain-land-title-in-Sri-Lank
Articles written by M/s LakshikaNadaraja Daily News 23rd and 27th November of Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies - CHA]
The process and the progress of building a sound land transaction platform are akin to a duck gliding in water; there is much paddling to be done unseen to achieve visible success without foreign laws being haphazardly introduced. It is hoped that greater interest will be taken by all Sri Lankan stakeholders and lawyers to develop the Real Estate market as land is the wealth of the country.
Writers Kirthimala Gunasekera is an Attorney at Law and A.C.Dedigama is an Attorney at Law /Solicitor and are attached to Legal Information Centre for Protecting Land Owners- Sri Lanka.