A proposed Land Bill that is currently being considered by Parliament will give power to the Lands Commission to establish and manage an escrow account for the payment of compensation associated with compulsory acquisition of land.
The bill is a product of the Land Administration Project (LAP) and is intended to consolidate and update the legal framework for land administration in the country.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana allows the state to compulsorily acquire private land for public purposes, but stipulates the condition that adequate and fair compensation must be paid to the landowner. Over the years, however, many disputes have arisen over compulsory land acquisition, including some landowners’ claims that the proper legal process was not followed or adequate compensation was not paid by the state.
To address such issues, the proposed bill, in its memorandum, states that “compulsory acquisition of land shall not be undertaken or facilitated by the Lands Commission unless the intended user of the acquired land proves in writing to the satisfaction of the Commission that the funds for the payment of compensation and other costs associated with the acquisition have been paid into an interest-yielding escrow account.”
It continues: “Where the intended user is a Ministry, Department or Agency, the Ministry, Department or Agency shall obtain Cabinet approval and make budgetary allocation for the payment of compensation and other costs associated with the acquisition before the commencement of the acquisition.”
The bill clearly delineates the purposes for which land may be compulsorily acquired in order to make the constitutional requirement of prompt, fair and adequate compensation more effective. It also sets clear timelines for the various stages of the acquisition process, and seeks to safeguard the interest of persons affected by an acquisition by including provisions requiring notice and consultation.
According to the bill, after a notice of the assessed compensation has been served on all interested persons by the Lands Commission, the Commission shall make payments of the compensation to the person entitled unless there is no person competent to receive the payment, the person entitled refuses to receive payment or there is a dispute as to the right or title of the person to receive the compensation, in which case the compensation payable shall remain in the escrow account.
The bill also introduces, for the first time, electronic conveyancing to speed up conveyancing and make it more accessible. In law, conveyancing is the transfer of legal title of real property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien.
The bill seeks to create or register interests in land by electronic means, and it envisages that, within a comparatively short time, electronic conveyancing will be the dominant method of conducting land acquisition processes.
For the purposes of facilitating electronic conveyancing, the Lands Commission will be required to establish a land information system equipped with the requisite information technology infrastructure; train and equip staff with the appropriate knowledge and skills to manage the land information system; and provide education generally on the land information system and particularly on electronic conveyancing to its staff.
The bill also provides that a legal practitioner may be granted access to provide electronic conveyancing services if the Lands Commission is satisfied that the applicant has the facilities and equipment required to provide the service.