Digging Deep into Land Issues with Addis Abeba’s General Manager

"Mekuria Haile"
Mekuria Haile, general manager of the Addis Abeba City Administration

Fortune: What were the major achievements and challenges of the City Administration in the past nine months?

Mekuria Haile:  This [fiscal] year (2009/10), vis-à-vis the full scale implementation of our business process reengineering (BPR), we studied the balanced scorecard which is a tool for evaluating institutions as a whole and evaluating employees. We [also] developed a roadmap (plan) for good governance [and] overall economic development of the city [divided] in[to] different areas of economic development [such as] infrastructure, housing, road construction, and sanitation, including health education. We made a clear roadmap for the coming 10 years. We also recruited new graduates, as staff [members], who have the energy to alleviate the problems of the city can shoulder the responsibility of implementing the aggressive plan [laid out by] the City Administration in [areas of] economic and social development.

To implement this economic and social development, we have developed a good scheme for enhancing the revenue collection capacity of the city. This was also a good achievement for the City Administration.

Housing construction was also one of our focus areas. The other point, which I think has great impact on [the] socioeconomic development of Addis Abeba overall, was and is land development and administration. There were a lot of abuses and illegal practices in the land administration of Addis Abeba. We mainly controlled the illegal practices and ensured equity for citizens and those who were looking for the service.

Through the bid option system we are transferring [land] in a transparent and accountable way. Good governance, land administration, and other vital statistics services can be taken as our [main] achievements. [As far as] social infrastructure, [the main achievements have been the [increased] quality of education and enrolment of students; developing a new scheme in health extension services; and job creation at the city level, especially developing a new scheme which creates job opportunities, like cobblestone masonry. I think the first and foremost achievement overall is [the increased] building capacity for economic and social development and having a system which is capable of delivering what it plans.

The biggest challenge was [changing] the outlook of the staff, attaining a conducive work environment and organisational setup. Getting the full heart and [soul] of the staff in striving for implementation is a great challenge for the City Administration. This will continue to be a challenge for the city. Other [challenges] are resource scarcity, working environments, logistics, and budget.

Q: Are there steps taken by the administration to solve these problems?

We are struggling to bring that change and there were a lot of training schemes and a lot of platforms that discussed the commitment, dedication, and conviction of the staff. There are a lot of discussions at the team level, department level, institutional level, and even at the city level. We also have monthly and annual trainings.

Q: Out of the 281 investors who have signed lease agreements in the 10 districts, only 59pc (166 investors) were able to actually get land. What about the rest? Why is the City Administration not able to deliver the leased lands in a timely manner?

The case of the 281 investors was transferred from the caretaker administration. At that time, when they decided to transfer and give the land to the investors on a lease basis, they did not consider obstacles like the people who were residing in kebele houses at the time and state owned houses, and the investors who were already there. We took that responsibility, and we have been dealing with the compensation issues of the people residing there and transferring them [to new homes]. [But] we are dedicated to discharge that responsibility. We have now established a new committee to sort out the problems, and, within one and half months’ or a maximum of two months’ time, we will deliver all the leased land.

Q: So it was all the fault of the previous administration?

Yes, it is carryover.

Q: According to the report of the taskforce released by the City Administration on June 14, 2010, 826 investors have not started construction at their designated times. Why is that?

There are a lot of reasons, like shortages of inputs like cement, metals, and foreign currency.  The basic issues are our monitoring and follow-up. At the Municipal Land and Building Permit Authority there was not a strong team to follow up, remind, and take measures whenever there was a delay. That was the biggest and most key problem.

We established a new system, a new organisational setup at the kebele level. Now, we have changed the kebele name wereda. At the wereda level, it will be sorted out.

We have divided it into two parts, according to the Ethiopian calendar, before January 2005 and after, as decided by the City Administration of the time. We are implementing that decision and informing those people whose building permit deadline has already expired. We are collecting data, and we are discussing [solutions] with them. We will keep taking measures on those whose building permit deadlines have already expired.

Q: What measures will the administration take, for those people who have not started construction on time?

Our biggest motive and interest is not to take measures like taking the land back to the municipality and then transferring it to other people. Our main issue is using the land for developmental purposes. We would be very happy to pressure them and get them to start development. Otherwise, the obvious step is to take back the land.

Q: How would you define the role of the Land Development, Banking, and Urban Renewal Project Office in the special taskforce?

It is a newly established office [through its separation from] the land administration and building permit. There are taskforces at the wereda level, district level, and city level, which are led by the [respective] higher officials. When returning land [which might be owned illegally by investors, squatters, different institutions or organisations], the [appropriate] taskforce will demarcate it clearly with x and y coordinates and plans and bank it with the municipality. The other responsibility is developing expansion areas of the city, [by offering] compensation, relocating residents, and providing infrastructure. The renewal in Lideta is the first move. [It is] a very tough assignment. [The infrastructure includes] sewerage lines, telecommunication lines, and power lines.

Q: According to the report, the City Administration has set aside 1,029.3ht for development. What are the number and size of the plots allotted for real estate, hotels, residential purposes, and other investment sectors?

The major proportion of the land is zoned for industry. We are especially giving priority to medium and small factories in the industry zones in Addis Abeba. The other major share is for condominiums and other mixed-use buildings.

We have not yet decided the direction for real estate. This is because the city expected real estate to cover (take responsibility for) a big portion of the housing supply, but this did not happen as expected, due to the incapability or irresponsibility of [private entities within] the sector. We will have to identify those who can discharge their responsibilities and commitments with the City Administration and then allocate some proportion of the land for that sector, too. The other share of the land is for education, health, and federal institutions, like universities, which were allocated around 150ht recently.

Q: Is the reason that real estate does not enjoy a big share of the allocated land due to their failure to deliver [on their promises to build houses]?

Of course, more than 500ht of land is in the hands [of real estate developers]. Only 14pc of the expected development has been delivered so far.

Q: What steps have been taken by the City Administration regarding the delay of compensation to people who have been evicted for infrastructural purposes from their previous holdings, especially by the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA)?

It is not a regular phenomenon not to compensate. Sometimes there is a shortage of cash, or there might be delays in the preparation of the report and its submission to the finance and economic development bureau for the withdrawal of money to make payments. It is by chance that, at the time of the report, there was a gap between those entitled to have the [compensation] in money and those who had not yet been paid. This is what occurred at time of the report but it is not usual. It is a problem of the AACRA.

Q: But according to the report, the AACRA has not been efficient enough in delivering this compensation . . .

No, it is not a matter of efficiency, and it does not happen often. For sure, they were in the process of withdrawing the money from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) to their account to make [the] payments. As they said, at that specific time, there was a cash shortage.

Q: Right now there is no such problem?

I think it has been 10 days or a week since the report came out, so I am not quite sure at this time.

Q: The city has plans to settle ownership issues of land acquired before 1995/96 (which is close to 106,000 cases), along with the new ones in a year’s time, according to the taskforce report. Is this feasible and, if so, how?

That is what we publicised, and for sure based on our inner organisational setup, we are planning to deliver that assignment within a shorter period of time. That [one year timeframe] is the maximum. We will discharge that responsibility.

Q: You have the structural organisation to deliver?

We have established an organisational setup. Previously, there was only one surveyor team. Now, we have established nine teams of surveyors [in each district]. That means times [there are] 90 teams of surveyors responsible for service delivery. Their office is equipped with all the furniture, equipment, GPS, computers, and important logistics [equipment that they need]. We gave them training and some incentives as well. We took two solid years of preparation for this project delivery, and [we are] quite sure and confident [that] we will finish it within a year’s time, even if our internal plan is much shorter than that.

Q. When will the second and third phases of settling land ownership of those who acquired land after 1995/96 be implemented?

The government has not yet decided what to do with those construction [projects] [that were] undertaken after 1995/96. From the municipality side, we have filtered out how many construction [projects] were undertaken after 1995/96. We know the number, we know the houses, and we are getting a survey of those houses. But a small number of the houses are not legal. Once the government makes its decision, we will start implementing in the same fiscal year.

Q: When will the government make a decision

If the government decides this year, then the municipality will be in a position to deliver.

Q: Will that decision be made soon?

The municipality will complete its study in September 2010. We will analyse the pros and cons, make a recommendation, and then the government will decide.

Q: According to the report, many districts of Addis Abeba have [a] common problem in collecting data on land administration. Are there any efforts to alleviate this problem?

We are engaged to have high-level technology [for] an integrated land information system. One experienced consultant won the contract, and, I think, it is today (Thursday, June 24, 2010) that they are taking a flight to take aerial photographs [for mapping]. We are [also] going to have a wide area network (WAN). Within one and half years’ time, we will fix the problem.

Q: If a plot of land is to be used for a purpose other than what it was intended for, how would this be handled procedurally?

If an investor wants to change the purpose of the previous permit [and] if there was [an] incentive for the previous [permit], he will lose that incentive. It will be checked with the master plan and [the] local development plan of the city. If it is still [zoned] mixed-use, there is a possibility to change [it] from one [use] to another. It might be for residence or commercial purposes; [then] an interchange is possible. If it is dedicated for education or for health, it is impossible to change.

Q: Which sectors get incentives, for instance, getting land without having to make lease payments?

Land for religious purposes, cemeteries, green areas. . . For hospitals or educational services, even if it is very important for the socioeconomic development of the city, there is a floor price. It can, however, never be free, because [the city has to] pay for compensation [and the city has to] service all the infrastructure. So it (the city) can not submit the land free of payment.

Q: There are two kinds of land transfer methods. One is through negotiation, and the other is through a bid. How are these applied?

The major [methods of] title deed transfer of land in Addis Abeba are [by] auction and bid. There is also a third one, which is free assignment to government institutions, religious institutions, and embassies.

In Addis Abeba, every plot of land has a price tag, a floor price, and a ceiling price. No one is allowed to negotiate the price. The negotiation focuses on the height of buildings and architectural design. This is what we mean whenever we say “negotiation.” Ninety per cent [of the time] the government wants its land transfer system to be [conducted by] bid. Whenever there is negotiation, the experts are not allowed to negotiate on the price, because it is already a fixed one.

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