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Wanted: An effective land information system
12/08/08 NST Salleh Buang

Any man-made system is measured and valued by its enduring benefits to society, and the same should be said of a national land information system (LIS).

According to the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), LIS is a tool for legal, administrative and economic decision making.

It is also an aid for planning and development as it consists of a database with spatially referenced land related data for a defined area, and procedures and techniques for the systematic collection, updating, processing and distribution of the data.

The base of an LIS is a uniform spatial referencing system that can link its data with other land related data.

A recent study conducted in Fiji shows LISs have traditionally been initiated and implemented by government agencies in industrialised countries to improve the administration and management of land resources and government systems.

Any direct benefit to the public "has usually been an incidental result" of the LIS’ main objectives.

We have to keep this downside in mind with our LIS.

Finland’s LIS' objective is to provide "an information service" via easy access to all cadastral data there, along with the related spatial data.

This requires the development of an integral cadastre with nationwide coverage, and a complementary system for updating the data.

That is a good model to consider.

Under its law which establishes a national register and information system, the state is responsible for the development and maintenance of the system as well as the provision of error-free data. Obviously, there is no value in having information that is not accurate nor timely.

In Chile, the integrated structure of its LIS makes it both secure and accurate and allows its data to be processed, verified, certified and transferred.

On our shores, we have the National Infrastructure for Land Information System (NaLIS) that was set up by the government to provide users with a single window to all land related information and to facilitate access to spatial data for all levels of government, the commercial sector, and the public.

There were high expectations: With NaLIS there would be no more wasteful duplication of effort in acquiring land data, and information would be accurate, timely and consistent. NaLIS would effectively aid the development and management of land resources.

On Jan 2, 1997, the Prime Minister’s Department issued Guidelines for the establishment of NaLIS.

In the Circular, it said, "Land information is crucial for land development, utilisation of natural resources and safeguarding the environment.

"Malaysia is developing at a rapid pace. The success of Malaysia in implementing its development projects, while contributing to high growths, also exerts heavy pressures on the land and its natural resources.

"To ensure the progress made can be continued and sustained, it is necessary that a National Infrastructure for Land Information be established to assist in land development, utilisation of natural resources and safeguarding the environment."

NaLIS’ three principal objectives caught my eye: The system will aid land development, better utilise our natural resources, and safeguard our environment. Wonderful.

NaLIS was officially launched at the NaLIS Convention in September 1997. Now, more than a decade later, what has happened to it?

A hefty RM1 billion budget was allocated for its implementation nationwide, but it was slashed due to the economic downturn. Under the Eighth Malaysia Plan (2001-2005), the government allocated US$1.37 billion (US$1=RM3.26), five per cent of the national budget, towards ICT development.

In 2002, NaLIS was restructured and rebranded MyGDI (Malaysian Geospatial Data Infrastructure) with its main function being to enhance awareness about data availability and improve access to geospatial information by facilitating data sharing among participating agencies.

According to the Department of Survey and Mapping’s director of survey Ahmad Fauzi Nordin, cadastral data integration is still one major problem in MyGDI’s implementation.

Problems were addressed but there is still a pressing need to overcome topographic- cadastral data integration problems; resolving them will secure long term benefits, especially to geospatial data users.

Melbourne University’s Prof Ian Williamson said LIS is a critical part of the land administration and management system of any city.

Thus, if city fathers do not have an up-to-date record of property owership, their location and their value, it would be difficult to "tax land and property equitably".

Without an adequate tax base, it will be difficult to fund essential infrastructure and services.

In layman’s language, what he said is if City Hall does not know the location and extent of all existing services, it will be almost impossible to repair and upgrade them.

In short, a weak or ineffective LIS would lead to poor land management and administration. In the Fiji study, it would appear that Williamson shares the view that there is "a great danger" that land and geographic information systems are "technology driven rather than being driven by user needs".

This is a worrying trend, especially in developing countries where knowledge and understanding of LIS and technologies are often lacking. With that handicap, it might take a long time before we can take our own LIS to the next level.


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