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Widespread Corruption in Land Deed Registration: TIB Study stressed on Digitization of Services

Corruption is so widespread in land registry offices of Bangladesh that service seekers are forced to pay bribes at every step to get land-related services. The pervasive graft has become nearly institutionalized by a collusion of the employees of the land offices, local goons, and well-connected people, observed in a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) study. Titled `Governance Challenges in Land Deed Registration Service and Way Forward’, the study also found that illegal transactions are frequently made for recruitment, promotions, and transfers of the land office staff.  
The study, aimed to find out the reasons behind the lack of good governance in land registration-related offices and put recommendations to overcome the challenges, also focused on challenges of implementation of laws, infrastructural limitations, deficiencies of logistics, budget constraints, and inadequate human resources, lack of accountability and coordination which contributed to ever-increasing corruption in the land-related offices. 
“It is unfortunate to discover the overwhelmed corruption and pervasive governance deficits in the sector despite a variety of recent positive initiatives by the government. Without a few exceptions, the study clearly shows that all the services are provided based on bribe, in a sense, people are being held hostage to the institutionalization of corruption. Although the sector has mechanisms for accountability and internal control, those were not functioning properly. The corruption and irregularities there were based on “partnership and agreement”. A kind of “partnership outline” from top to bottom had been established, said Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB in a press conference organized to unveil the study on 9 September at its Dhaka office.
Referring to the study finding that the district registrar and sub-registrar offices are among the most corrupt in the country, Dr. Zaman said, "land registration and corruption have become synonyms in Bangladesh. With corruption curbed and transparency and accountability established, the sector would yield more revenue for the government. The government also needs to modernize the sector, especially by introducing the digitalization of land registration and other land-related services. This would make controlling corruption easier.” Dr. Zaman added. 
The study, conducted between July 2018 to August 2019, further observed that service seekers were offered “packages” to have their deeds registered. Sometimes it was a fixed amount and sometimes a percentage of the value of the land. The amount varied depending on the price, type, and location of the land as well as the type of deed and availability of other documents required to get registered. Most service seekers were found little or no idea about the actual fee for having a deed made by deed writers. Most deed writers took additional money from them, even in the name of their association, found the study. The study also identified that 10 to 50 percent of the collected illegal money goes to Sub-Registrars' pocket and rest go to other officials based on their positions, and a certain share of the bribe goes to the pockets of the officials from the grassroots level to the office of the directorate of Registration.
At the press conference, TIB Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Advocate Sultana Kamal; Adviser Executive Management Professor Dr. Sumaiya Khair, and Director-Research & Policy Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan were also present along with the team of researchers designated for the study.
The study jointly carried out by Deputy Programme Manager Nihar Ranjan Roy, and Programme Manager Shammi Laila Islam of Research & Policy, TIB, was conducted monitoring selected 41 sub-registrar offices under 16 district registrar offices as well as interviews with different key stakeholders.  The study observed those deed writers in the association of office staff, copywriters and mohrars (clerks) force the service seekers to pay extra money as bribe showing different excuses, including for ‘office maintenance’.
According to the study, service seekers had to pay up to 5 lakh for deed registration and Tk 1,000 to Tk 7,000 for the copy of a deed. They had to pay Tk 500 to Tk 5,000 to deed writers’ association. The report also found that a bribe of 20,000 up to Tk 3 lakh was required to get listed as an apprentice deed copy-maker, get a license for a deed writer, and inclusion in the deed writers’ association. Up to Tk 8 lakh in bribe is required for promotion to Mohorar from an apprentice deed copy-maker, up to Tk 10 lakh for promotion to an office assistant, and up to Tk 20 lakh for transfer of a sub-registrar, according to the study.
The study further observed that the introduction of appointing sub-registrars through the Public Service Commission decreased corruption in their recruitment process. However, the officials and employees in the course of their job extracts bribe from the service seekers many times the money they spend on their appointment and posting, another finding of the study showed.
Advocate Sultana Kamal said the shortage of competent manpower and lack of monitoring of the internal control system are the major problems in the land offices. "TIB recommends strengthening the capacity of manpower and internal monitoring system in land offices to improve services. To ensure good governance in the sector, it is imperative to increase institutional capacity,” she added. 
Besides, to overcome governance challenges, the study put 15 points recommendations, which included, better monitoring and making public the income statements of all the officials and employees of the relevant directorate; strong enforcement of laws and review of the land values set in the Fixation of Lowest Market Price of Property Rules 2010 in line with the actual market price. The study also recommended reducing the land registration fees in the country; introduction of e-registration and one-stop service delivery system; ensure proper financial allocation, adequate infrastructure, logistics, human resources for all sub-registrar and district registrar offices based on proper need assessments; effective and smooth internal coordination among offices, etc.
 
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