Tax & Accounting Blog

The next Generation in Land Administration: Real Time Public Land Inventories & Revenue Tracking

Aumentum, Blog July 17, 2014

Inventory management and revenue management – these are two critical challenges that we at Thomson Reuters hear repeatedly from our conversations with governments worldwide. It doesn’t seem to be split between developed or emerging nations either, as these are critical issues with which all governments universally grapple. The difference, however, is in the severity of data gaps from one country to another.

How many national, provincial, or state governments in the world today could at a minutes’ notice tally how much land is publically managed under their authority? How many governments could accurately share the total sum of proceeds for that month or week from all public land generating revenue from a lease, easement, or concession (be they forest or mineral)?

Let’s use the United States as an illustrative example. The U.S. Federal Government manages an estimated 25% of all lands while U.S. States manage an additional 9% of all lands. So one-third (or 34%) of all lands in the U.S. are publically managed. (I pulled these complied statistics from the Natural Resources of Maine website. Click here to view tallied numbers, state-by-state breakdowns, and the total controlled by different federal agencies, such as lands classified as tribal lands.)

The footnotes from these compiled statistics are telling. As related to accuracy of data sources, the report states: “Federal land ownership is volatile; land is acquired and disposed of, transferred between agencies and reclassified frequently. The federal data in this table are changing continually and it should be assumed that the state data are as well.” Also noteworthy is this additional footnote: “Figures in Federal & State owned column: In most cases it was not possible to separate the figures when agencies overlapped.”

So while 34% of all lands publically managed in the U.S. may be a close estimate, one could assume a margin of error of say +/- 4%, as a “guesstimate”. What would the comparable margin of error be in resource rich countries, including in Latin America, Africa, or Asia? Do accurate tallies of all public lands managed by various ministries at different-levels of government exist?

We cannot, and should not, assume that all governments themselves have full transparency into the full stock of publically managed lands, let alone full access to all maps, contracts, or recorded fees collected on land acquisitions, dispositions, leases, or concessions.

This subsequently impacts government revenues for state agencies maintaining those lands. If there is a challenge in knowing “what” they manage, how can they be sure the revenue they generate from these lands is accurate? Complicating this are the blurred lines between jurisdictional responsibilities for lands. This boils up to issues of how to improve transparency and governance, as derived from full audit trails for how much revenue government bodies receive for concessions, leases, or taxes derived from public lands and natural resources.

As the stewards of natural resources and lands, with a charge to also strategically use while conserve resources to support economic activity and peoples’ livelihoods, innovative governments are now just starting to adopt real time inventory and revenue tracking systems. This next wave of land administration is just starting to swell, but the potential social, economic and environmental lift is enormous.