REAL ESTATE DOCUMENTATION: Prerequisite for Progress [Archives:1998/37/Viewpoint]

September 14 1998

One of the sources of headaches in our courts is the dispute about real estate ownership in this country. The traditional way of documentation needs an immediate transformation. Let me give my reasons, as follows:
1. Creating New Institutions:
The present system of deeds is based on the work of clergies who can literally transfer ownership from one person to another. The qadhi who writes the deeds and registers them with himself holds too much power, leading to corruption and manipulation. We have seen many cases whereby a qadhi has been party to forgeries and improper deals. The right to issue deeds and register them mush be transferred to an institution which works according to clear rules. Its registry and other documents should be made available to the public. Its work must be transparent. And its officials must be held accountable. Such an institution could be tied to the modern legal sector. It need not necessarily be part of government.
2. Uniform Deeds:
The titles to land ownership (deeds) must be unified in format, and legal structure. At present, people have documents which are so different, and in some cases, are not even legible, given the handwriting. These papers have to be given some uniformity for several reasons:
a- To increase confidence:
By creating a uniform set of documents, people will be able to readily recognize them. This raises the level of acceptance and confidence in them.
b- To use them as collateral:
If the ownership titles are standardized, they can be used as collateral to raise money in the financial market. At this stage, most of the deeds are not in an acceptable shape. This deprives our society from the ability to use such capital to create more capital. This would be an interesting development for the urban middle class, for example.
c- To raise tax income:
By standardizing the ownership documents, the government can immediately increase its tax revenue from such income as capital gains, real estate sale/purchase, rental revenue, etc. In most of the world, real estate-based taxes provide a rich source of income for the state.
3. More investors:
In my opinion, attending to this matter would reduce the level of dispute among people. This means that local and foreign investors would find it easier to invest in real-estate in the country. As things stand today, this problem of authentication of real-estate ownership is a major disincentive for investors. If you live in Yemenis cities, especially the capital city, Sanaa, you will definitely be aware of the shoot-outs associated with conflicting claims to land ownership. The main reason for this is that the country does not have a modern system for documenting rights and titles to real estates.
As such, I believe that it would be instrumental, within our reform program, if this matter is seriously addressed.
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher