Elizabeth Stair is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Land Agency (NLA) of Jamaica. As the NLA is a merger of all land administration functions in Jamaica, she is responsible for surveys and mapping, land titles, valuations and the management of Crown Lands. Thomson Reuters recently sat down with Stair to discuss this unification and its effects on land administration on the island.
Thomson Reuters: How has the creation of the NLA into an executive agency changed the way land is governed in Jamaica?
Stair: Executive Agencies are required to set performance targets and this is primarily related to the quality and effectiveness of the services delivered. This was seen as a shortfall in the traditional government departments. We all were mandated to publish Citizen Charters that set out the minimum standards of service that we commit to giving to our customers. In addition, we have constant monitoring and performance reporting which basically ensures that we are on track and we meet our targets. Of course, these stringent performance targets allow us to give better management and administration of land matters, especially in relation to titling and the management of government lands.
Pre-NLA was troubled with many problems in service delivery. Post-NLA is where we have focused on customer service including things as basic as renovating offices to try to make our customers and staff more comfortable. One of the other problems encountered prior to the executive agency, was the absence of computerized applications to support the business areas. There has been a big improvement under the executive agency because we have our eLandJamaica service and the Land Registration and Parcel Data Management System which has helped to give us better turnaround times for delivery services.
Thomson Reuters: What were the greatest challenges in moving into this type of agency?
Stair: The greatest challenge was changing the focus of the staff to a performance-driven agency. Before, we were not really monitored in terms of performance. But because we’re now performance-driven, everything is measured and monitored on a constant basis. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult for staff to adjust.
The other problem that we had was that we merged four separate government departments into one agency, so we had a problem with the culture. The cultures were different in each Department. We had to spend a lot of time on change management processes to facilitate this transformation and to bring our staff to a certain level.
And of course we also had to deal with the whole paradigm shift where customers had grown accustomed to expecting poor service, so when we started to improve things, they said “Wow!” It had become unexpected to receive anything but poor service in a government office. Another challenge was the matter of legislative issues to make us operate as an Executive Agency, which proved to be a challenge in the beginning.
Thomson Reuters: Do you think that moving to an executive agency was necessary as a prerequisite for installing modern land information technology?
Stair: Yes, I think it was a definite prerequisite to streamlining land-related processes. The achievements we have made in the Agency could not have been done separately because each of these functions is inter-related. They depend on each other for information. That’s why one of the successes that came out of the merger is really our ability to merge the datasets without anyone saying, “This is my data and that’s your data” but rather this is our data. Weall have a vested interest in seeing that the data is improved and available to any member of the public.
Thomson Reuters: In terms of service delivery, what are the greatest challenges to getting more people to register their land on their own accord?
Stair: The cost of obtaining a certificate of title in Jamaica is very high. It is prohibitive as far as the professional fees are concerned to hire a land surveyor, a lawyer, and sometimes a valuer may be required. One of the major challenges is that persons have a difficulty in proving a good root of title to ownership of land. These are some of the challenges we see.
Also, some people are not convinced that there are any benefits to a registered title. So to us, public education needs to play a much more involved part in trying to get people to register their lands. We have a Government Programme — LAMP-Land Administration and Management Programme which is dealing with titling in specific areas of the island. There are great benefits under this programme for persons who want to register their land or who want to correct their titles in terms of ownership, for example, where somebody has died and the title has not been dealt with.
The recently-launched iMapJamaica will raise the consciousness and curiosity about land matters. Before, people would play around with Google Earth and Google Maps, but iMapJamaica gives more information because it gives you title references and land valuation numbers. Some people may look at it and say “you have a title and I don’t have a title? What does it take for me to get a title?” It’s expected then to raise the awareness of the general public.
Thomson Reuters: How might other Caribbean island states use Jamaica as a case study to help them implement a more efficient system? Do you foresee any potential regional collaboration in this respect?
Stair: An assessment would need to be done to ascertain whether it is feasible for other countries to go this way. We are one of very countries in the world that has merged land administration functions, for example, Australia and New Zealand have done it to some extent. A country has to look at their particular situation to see if it would improve their land administration, as the merging of functions is a very bold step. If they look at the way that they serve their customers, they might be able to see that this is a good way to go because ideally we’re heading for a “one-stop shop” situation, where customers can go to one office and receive all of the services.
In terms of regional collaboration, we’re always willing to share our successes, give advice, or facilitate visits. We don’t mind being benchmarked by other countries at all or assisting them in any way in their implementation.