Property Rights Reform Makes Progress in Timor Leste

Update on Land Administration and Policies in Asia/Pacific

Earlier this month, the Parliament in Timor Leste passed three laws related to property rights. The new measures, which now await signature by the President, are expected to provide a foundation for resolving disputes and registering land; prescribe procedures under which the Government can expropriate land; and create a fund to compensate property owners who lose their property rights. These new laws will have a large impact on economic growth, which stalled when the Indonesian occupation ended and civil war ripped the country apart.

The new legislation is a significant accomplishment that USAID and other bi-lateral donors have supported over the long term. Since 2007, USAID has invested $10 million in supporting the Strengthening Property Rights in Timor Leste (SPRTL) project. This project addressed serious concerns related to land-based conflict raised in a 2006 Conflict Vulnerability Assessment. The project’s main objectives included:

  • Promoting public information and awareness of rights related to land and the process of registering claims to land in Timor-Leste;
  • Supporting the development of a land policy, laws, and implementing regulations;
  • Supporting the development of a national land body in Timor-Leste;
  • Supporting improved land administration in Timor-Leste; and,
  • Supporting effective dispute resolution, mediation and reconciliation efforts in Timor-Leste.

Given the substantial delay in passing a new Land Law, the project adopted a flexible approach, and also created an alternate process for registering and mediating property claims. This process – known as “Ita Nia Rai” or “Our Land” – operated independently and successfully for several years but now has been adopted by Timor Leste’s Ministry of Finance. As of October 2011, 53,814 land claims had been recorded for 50,101 parcels of land, in a claims process that is free of charge to participants and decentralized. Of the 53,814 claims, only 9.2 percent are disputed.

Additionally, Ita Nia Rai reached over 12,000 Timorese with public awareness activities including community forums, focus group discussions, workshops/seminars, and annual forums to explain the land claims process. The project also developed 16 descriptive videos; nine are available on YouTube. These efforts have helped inform the Timorese public of opportunities that exist under Ita Nia Rai to bring claims to property and thereby strengthen their property rights.