Implementing the Summit of the Americas Initiative on Property Registration

Prepared by the United States Agency for International Development and the Centro Nacional de Registros of El Salvador for the Summit Implementation Review Group

March 2000

I. Introduction:

At the Santiago Summit of the Americas, a new initiative not found in the Miami Summit of 1994 was introduced: Property Registration. This initiative is part of the issue basket on "The Eradication of Poverty and Discrimination." It is so important to this issue basket because the lack of formalized property rights and limited access to property are barriers for the poor to economic opportunity, governance and sociopolitical participation. For example, informality of property rights limits access by the poor to housing, to credit, to water and to electric utilities. Improving systems for property registration is also very important for Summit interests outside the poverty basket. In fact, property registry reform impacts many fundamental Summit goals -- justice, human rights, gender equality, financial market strengthening and economic integration and poverty alleviation. Property registration is a keystone of second generation reforms. This topic incorporates more than public administration of land titles. Improving systems of property registration is a means of recognizing rights formally, resolving conflicts, increasing transparency, increasing participation in governance and in property markets, improving the security of investments, improving contracts enforcement and motivating investment in environmental conservation.

Specifically, the 1998 Summit Action Plan adopted in Santiago calls on member states to implement three action items:

Governments will:

Related Mandates

We have already stated the cross-cutting importance of the property registration initiative across the Summit agenda. It is important, then, to point out those places where property registration is included within other initiatives of the Santiago Plan of Action:

At the Santiago Summit, the USG accepted the role of Responsible Coordinator for the initiative on property registration. The World Bank accepted the position of support role. Shortly after the Santiago meeting, based on El Salvador’s tremendous progress over the last several years in improving their registry systems and its potential as a regional/sub-regional leader, El Salvador accepted the role of Responsible Co-coordinator. The IDB is also assuming a support role. The United States, thus, shares with El Salvador the responsibility for leading the Summit discussion on this critical topic and is deepening this coordination in anticipation of the Summit in 2001.

Just after the Summit, in 1998, USAID created The Inter-Summit Property Systems Initiative (IPSI) as a vehicle to assist the USG in its responsibility. El Salvador, through its National Center for Registries (Centro Nacional de Registros), has endorsed IPSI as an appropriate strategic framework for implementing the action items and is contributing to its continual development and refinement. IPSI recognizes the long history in the region of effort toward improving the security of land tenure, especially the recent activity this decade toward the development of competitive land markets with equity of access. Surely, these are the bases of what became the action items agreed on in Santiago. IPSI also, however, recognizes the persistence of problems and the importance of raising these issues to the Summit platform through the 1998 initiative. This initiative is very important because it expresses a unified political will to reform property registration institutions and sets forth the core characteristics to be incorporated in such reforms. It has, thereby, given renewed motivation to move forward with implementation of the many ongoing efforts in this area and clearly indicates the need for coordination and consensus among government institutions, donors and civil society. This is the basis for consolidating progress and achieving results.

The Summit has created a new momentum and today we can point to numerous developments that show progress towards the goals of the Santiago Plan of Action. This report will provide for each of the three action items a summary of progress highlighting such developments, a summary of specific regional activities supported by USAID via IPSI, and a statement of the next steps identified during the post-summit period. A discussion of problems and new issues that have emerged in implementation and possible solutions that might need to be considered as we move toward Canada will follow the progress report.

II. The First and Second Action Items:

A summary of progress for the first and second action items is presented jointly in this section since the latter is really just a call for the donor community to strengthen their assistance portfolios in support of the implementation of the first action item which provides a template with the main characteristics of improved systems for property registration.

Summary of Progress:

This summary is compiled based on information submitted to us from Argentina, Brazil, St. Christopher and Nevis/St. Kits, Canada, and Bolivia (we appreciate those efforts) in response to a request sent by Ambassador Lino Gutierrez and information gathered through a network of project implementation staff that IPSI coordinates with. The information gathered reflects several kinds of achievement throughout the hemisphere:

Increased and Improved Policy Dialogue

The Santiago Summit has stimulated an increased level and improved quality of policy dialogue on property registry modernization. As called for in the second action item, the World Bank and USAID have contributed significantly to facilitating such dialogue. Such policy dialogue is critical given that there are varied interpretations that can be given to the components of the template provided by the first action item as it is taken from a political mandate and implemented in practice. For example, what construct of decentralization is best for making use of current technology and for achieving the means of expanding access by the poor to property? What are the best-practices in the various legal, institutional, and technological aspects of registry modernization processes? Evidence of a much improved quality policy dialogue is seen in the series of sub-regional policy workshops conducted with full participation of all the Central American nations and Panama as well as the major donor agencies that are providing them with financial and technical assistance. These workshops motivated the establishment of a permanent council on property registry modernization for Central America and to some basic agreements such as to adopt the model of a registry system that is linked with a georeferenced cadastral map production i.e., a georeferenced, parcel-based registry system. This is compliant with the first mandate and is a basis for improved transparency in the registry. Finally, while less progress toward consensus has been made, a discussion has been opened on alternative dispute resolution and the best ways to incorporate conflict resolution into the process of registry modernization is underway. These workshops have also allowed sharing of experiences and exchange of lessons learned. Efforts are underway to arrange for similar workshops to be conducted in South America as well as in the Caribbean.

Progress continued under pre-existing projects

Almost all of the 34 countries in the hemisphere have activities underway that relate to the objectives of the Santiago Summit. In some places projects begun even before the April 1998 Summit are being completed, in other places pre-existing projects have been renewed and/or modified in order to improve results; and, finally, there are several new projects starting or being designed. The myriad projects encompass several elements of the first action item, although in some countries not all elements are being addressed yet.

Achievement toward the goals of the action item was in progress even before the Santiago Summit. Examples include Argentina, Canada (Ontario and New Brunswick) as early leaders beginning substantive process in the 1980s and reaching near completion at present. Additional examples are found in Peru (both urban and rural initiatives), Ecuador (Guayaquil and Quito), the state of Wisconsin and the local jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area in the United States, El Salvador, and Guatemala with initiatives started in 1990’s, well underway and continuing to be improved. (El Salvador will provide an experience-based characterization of such initiatives at the SIRG.) In some of these same countries and in still others, such as Honduras, pilot projects were in design prior to the Summit and are now moving ahead in the post-summit period. These pilots are building comprehensive approaches that will move the countries in the direction of the summit accord from a base of splintered but important efforts from the early 1990s. For example, in Honduras, the land titling process was dramatically streamlined by the mid 1990s with technical assistance from the USG. Now, within in the World Bank financed pilot project, further streamlining is being contemplated along with the modernization of the registration and cadastre system.

Building on past progress, moving toward best practices and avoiding past errors is an important dynamic that the Summit initiative is helping to coalesce as the donors are undergoing serious evaluation of how to strengthen their technical assistance. The donor institutions are undertaking this evaluation in response to the clear statement articulated in Santiago of the result expected from such assistance. Finally, interesting approaches are being built around earlier initiatives toward modernizing registry information systems in the Caribbean e.g., Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad. These new initiatives are addressing the complementary legal and institutional frameworks that affect the ability of a registered right to be used in transactions. This is very important if the property initiative will impact on the problem of poverty.

New registry modernization projects and/or cadastre modernization efforts

Since the Summit, several new projects have begun or are under design presently. The Federal Government of Mexico is initiating a registry modernization program. The multilateral development banks are working with the governments of Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia to develop comprehensive land administration projects which include both registry and cadastre modernization. The report sent to us from St. Kits indicates that a plan is underway there as well.

National Regularization Plans

It is worth mentioning that ensuring access by the poor to property and to markets entails more than strictly modernizing the registry institutions. This is recognized in the Summit initiative in the inclusion of the need to streamline land titling processes. Some countries have projects underway to systematically ensure that these new processes are applied and that all property rights are documented in the new systems e.g., Mexico and Peru. In Honduras there is a massive rural land titling project underway and a pilot scale systematic adjudication process. In Guatemala, the World Bank funded project will also pilot a systematic adjudication process along with its continued support to the registry reform program. In other countries, like El Salvador, specific programs are created to help different groups of informal property holders to formalize their rights such as the Institute for Liberty and Progress.

Some aspects of the agenda are being incorporated as activity areas within programs with other direct goals

An important dynamic to notice is that recently, and it seems increasingly, various parts of the reform package called for in Santiago are being incorporated as activities within programs with other direct goals. This is in some ways very natural yet it has not been the approach in the past. It is natural in the sense that, as we have suggested in the introduction, this initiative has a truly cross-cutting impact and, therefore, the lack of its implementation becomes a hindrance to the achievement of various goals e.g., low-income housing finance and environmental conservation.

This logic has led the governments to incorporate tenure regularization components into many of their donor financed housing projects e.g., the IDB-funded low-income housing loan programs in Central America and the World Bank’s slum-upgrading project in Caracas. Other examples include a fiscal finance project in Puerto Rico in which serious discussion of how the new land-information system being developed by an association of municipalities should be linked in some manner with both the registry and cadastral functions of government. In Honduras, registry issues and land tenure are becoming important components of diverse program areas such as food security and biodiversity.

IPSI activities:

As described in the introduction, after the Santiago Summit, USAID created IPSI (the Inter-Summit Property Systems Initiative) as a vehicle to assist the implementation of the Plan of Action through supporting regional activities that facilitate and motivate the needed reforms in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The following is a brief annotated list of activities, related to the first and second action items, that have been funded thus far with IPSI support:

April 1998: USAID has extended its long-standing relationship with the Peruvian Institute for Liberty and Democracy in a new Cooperative Agreement under which they are conducting analyses and other activities that will advance the objectives of the Santiago Summit initiative on property registration and its ability to impact on the poverty problem.

March 1999: High-level Conference on Property Registry Reform in Central America. USAID co-funded this event hosted by the Harvard Institute for International Development and INCAE (with CABEI funding). The event drew much attention to the Santiago Initiative on Property Registry and this helped give direction to the policy dialogue that has ensued.

June 1999: A Virtual Office for the initiative has been created in partnership with the OAS Office of Summit Follow-Up. This is providing a means of continual dialogue and information sharing. The web-address is The page is bilingual in Spanish and English and offers public and secured areas for materials and dialogue.

September 1999: Civil Society Discovery and Dialogue Workshop Series opened in Washington. This is a series of small workshops with the intent of bringing the energy and ideas of civil society to the strategy for implementation.

October 1999: Central American Workshop on Property Registry Reform. This event was sponsored by the Property Registry of Guatemala with the World Bank and the USAID providing financing for participants (officials, technical experts and donor staff) from all the Central American nations and Panama. The agenda, presentations and final report are available via the internet (see address below).

February 2000: USAID has awarded a small grant to the University of Florida to develop and test, in coordination with the CNR of El Salvador, an internet-based training course in contemporary land administration which will facilitate implementation and sustainability of the first action item.

Next Steps:

The following reflect our view of what actions need to follow on the progress and projects currently underway:

III.  The Third Action Item:

The theme of indigenous rights to property is a sub-theme under the property registry mandate. Because of the lack of consensus on the desired composition of and need for a single framework, the strategy for implementation of the third action item is to look for experiences that offer positive examples of models that lead to greater security of tenure. This is appropriate because of the very diverse situations across the hemisphere and even, in some cases, across peoples within a country. It is also an appropriate approach because the idea of a basic policy template is still being considered within the proposed Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations.

Summary of Progress:

As with the first action item, there are several on-going efforts to improve the security of property of indigenous populations. Both the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have just completed major reviews and revisions of their strategy for assisting governments with issues relating to the rights of indigenous populations. Both of the new strategies include indigenous land tenure as an important issue area. Several World Bank-supported programs focus specifically on land issues concerning indigenous peoples. These include:

  1. the Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian Peoples Development Project, which became effective on September 11, 1998, seeks to increase the income and improve the quality of life for more than 800,000 poor indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian people. It includes components for institutional strengthening of indigenous organizations and the government branch responsible for indigenous peoples' development issues, regularization of land and water rights, and small-scale rural investments.
  2. The new GEF-financed Atlantic Biodiversity Corridor Project in Nicaragua has an Indigenous Communities Development component designed to support land regularization and natural resource management among the indigenous and Creole communities in the Atlantic coast region.
  3. Drafts of Indigenous Profiles for Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Mexico have been completed and work is underway on similar Profiles for El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (these country level assessments will provide essential information on local indigenous populations for planners, policymakers, and other development practitioners. Among the topics covered in each one are: demography and ethnic identity; legal context and land and property rights; sources of economic livelihood; use of the natural resource base and indigenous knowledge related to it).
  4. The Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forest includes an Indigenous Land Project which concentrates on land legalization.
  5. Assistance is being given to the government of Honduras to expand its implementation of land titling for indigenous groups such as the Tulupane and the Garifuna.

In addition, the government of Colombia is implementing a natural resource management project that includes activities to improve the security of indigenous tenure in the project area. Finally, the Canadian government reports progress under this action item as reflected in: the extension of modern information technology to the administration of indigenous lands; the adoption of legislation enabling more direct land management by indigenous population, and; the establishment of new territorial units of government that flow from negotiations over comprehensive land claims.

IPSI Activities:

USAID, the IDB and the World Bank are currently planning a forum in Central America for indigenous communities to share among themselves, with their governments and with the donor community, practices that are resulting in improved security of their land rights. Invited presentations from experts and from indigenous groups from both South and North America will give an opportunity for those in Central America to hear ‘lessons learned’ outside the region.

Next Steps:

IV.  Problems Identified and Newly Emerging Issues:

In this section, we provide an annotated list of problems that we have identified in these first years of implementation and some newly emerging issues that might need to be incorporated into the Summit-level policy dialogue:

V.  Conclusions:

To reiterate, from a pre-summit history in most countries of slow, overly costly effort, we have learned a lot. Today, the bases for creating complete and modern property information systems are known. Missing is a synchronization of the demand for appropriate institutional change and a drive to achieve it.

The Santiago Plan of Action expresses a political will to reform property registration institutions; it sets forth the core characteristics to be incorporated in such reforms; it has given renewed motivation to move forward with implementation of the many ongoing efforts in this area; its implementation requires coordination and consensus among governments, donors and civil society.

We urge you to help us reinforce awareness of the commitments made in Santiago within your own countries and to understand that progress made on this initiative is important to the cause of poverty alleviation as well as to stability of macroeconomic and democratic reforms. We also believe that for modernized property registration systems to achieve the optimal impact, commitments beyond and in clarification of the Santiago Action Plan need to become part of the next Summit Plan of Action.