23 May 2009

USAID: Timorese Register Land Claims for First Time

USAID Frontlines Timorese Register Land Claims for First Time FrontLines - May 2009 By Dorelyn Jose DILI, Timor-Leste­Alberto da Silva, a retired civil servant from Aiteas village in the Manatuto district east of here, was relieved­ he just registered his claim to the land where his house has stood for many years.

This is the first time Timorese have had the opportunity to register a claim to property since the country was internationally recognized as independent in 2002. The country’s history of successive colonization­first by Portugal for over four centuries and then by Indonesia for 24 years­has resulted in overlapping land claims.

A USAID assessment determined that conflict over property contributed to violence in 2006, especially in the capital of Dili. Secure land tenure is crucial for the country’s stability, and insecure property rights discourage productive investments in most sectors of the economy, project leaders said.

As of March, 891 land claims have been registered through the USAID-supported Strengthening Property Rights in Timor-Leste project­known locally as Ita Nia Rai or Our Land­working with the National Directorate for Land and Property. The team started registering land claims in November 2008 in two pilot areas­Liquica, west of Dili, and Manatuto, east of Dili.

Twenty-two data collectors working in teams and trained by project staff continue to record land claims in the pilot districts.

“There was originally a boundary dispute with his [da Silva’s] neighbor, so he asked us to give him some time before registering their land claims,” said Geraldo Gomes, who is the field manager for the land claims project in Manatuto district.

“Through the mediation of local leaders, he and his neighbor agreed on a compensation scheme, and when they were ready, they called us.”

Da Silva said the first thing he plans to do with pension money he expects from Portugal and Indonesia is to have a good fence built for his land­something he could only dream of doing until now. “I am happy because now we have peace,” he said.

Transparency is integral to claims collection. Once all the claims in a certain area have been collected, the teams display maps allowing the community to scrutinize the results. According to Gomes, relatively few disputes­ about 5 percent of recorded claims ­have arisen so far in Manatuto.

“Overall, people are just appreciative of the opportunity to make their claim, and they are understanding that others must also have the same opportunity,” said Ita Nia Rai conflict resolution specialist, David Alves Lopes.

This is only the beginning for claimants like da Silva who hope for passage of a land law that formally recognizes property rights through land titles. The Transitional Land Law is expected to be enacted later this year.

According to Antonio Verdial de Sousa, the National Directorate’s director, recording of land claims will be expanded soon. “Following the success of the program in the pilot areas, we plan to expand the activity in two new areas­Aileu, south of Dili, and Baucau, east of Dili …. We have already consulted with the local authorities there, trained the data collectors and field coordinators for the new areas, and the communities are ready to welcome the program,” he said.


VIDEO: This video (in English) provides an overview of the how the land data collection process in Timor Leste will work. Ita Nia Rai: Our Land in Timor Leste
Land Policy in East Timor - The Cart before the Horse

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