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Australians help codify Indonesian land titles

Published: Sep 30, 2007
Australia's biggest aid project in Indonesia is designed to strengthen Indonesian land registration procedures

AusAID recognises the value of land to people, Mr Anderson began by saying. Its value has to do with equity, social and political power, the environment and gender. Land was particularly important, he said, for people in densely populated areas.

Only 20% of Indonesian land is currently under 'valid' title. Perceiving a potential for major problems, the government went to the World Bank. The Bank conducted a feasibility study, and found a 90-year backlog of title registrations at the National Land Agency, even if no further land was sold in that time! Australia was then invited in because it was prepared to put up a straight grant (not a loan), and because of its demonstrated expertise from contributing to a similar programme in Thailand.


The land administration project is the biggest within Australia's bilateral aid to Indonesia, totalling approximately AU$26 million over five years. Australia is a junior partner with the World Bank, which contributes $80 million in loans, and the Indonesian government, which puts in about $45 million. Mr Anderson acknowledged in question time that 70-80% of the AU$26 million would come back to Australia, but this was not unusual in the aid world.

The outcomes from AusAID's involvement are expected to be as follows: 1) To register 1.2 million parcels of land, mostly in West Java. This will directly affect 4 million people. 2) To build a solid, reliable database on land laws and registration procedures, to be made available to officials. 3) To strengthen the relevant institution, namely the National Land Agency (Badan Pertanahan Nasional, BPN).

No customary title

Why West Java? Mr Anderson said this was chosen as the project area to avoid the difficulties of high uncertainty about customary rights found in other areas. At this stage, the project would not deal with customary lands in the Outer Islands. However, he did agree that the larger Indonesian project aimed eventually to register every parcel of land in Indonesia, including customary lands, under a uniform system.

The area around Jakarta is also experiencing rapid economic growth, leading to high demand to understand and access the land titling system. The project would not take away anyone's rights, he said, but would codify those rights. It will not deal with the issue of pre-existing inequitable land distribution.

One anticipated positive outcome is that it should raise the taxation base for the government, since experience elsewhere indicates the rich pay far too little tax on unregistered land. However, it will also benefit the rich, who have their larger land titles confirmed.


AusAID's role, implemented through a consortium of Australian companies, will be as follows: 1) To provide technical assistance and training in mapping, cadastral work, Geographical Information Systems, geodetic surveying, registration, etc. 2) To strengthen BPN by providing it with some surveying equipment. 3) To provide training to BPN staff. Eighty scholarships for officials will be made available for this purpose in Australia, and a further 24 in Indonesia.

Mr Anderson then bravely faced a barrage of questions. Some wondered how AusAID's stated appreciation of the non-economic value of land was being implemented in practice. Noer Fauzi, of the Bandung-based Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), challenged the market orientation of the project. He argued that pressure to register land is caused by a desire to acquire it for commercial purposes. This pressure is also the cause of the majority of land disputes. So where is the benefit to the people? Mr Anderson reiterated that to know who owned each parcel of land was of obvious benefit to everyone.

Galuh Wandita, from Oxfam-Australia in Jakarta, said BPN has gone on record saying that customary land rights should be abolished. She asked whether AusAID still thought BPN was the right department to deal with land registration in areas of customary ownership.

Carol Warren, an academic from Perth, said AusAID was supporting a capitalist land titling system that would not benefit a communalistic society. Certainly the work in the project area around Jakarta would primarily benefit industrialisation.


In response to a question from Christine Wheeler of CAA, Mr Anderson acknowledged that the maps produced by the project will be treated as Indonesian state secrets. However, experience in the Philippines had shown that a project of this kind can stimulate more openness, as it creates a large and legitimate demand for titling information among all sorts of NGOs.

Much as the project wished to remain purely technical, political questions were unavoidable, according to some other questioners. Maria Ruwiastuti, a lawyer who works in Sulawesi, put forward details of differences in the way BPN treats customary land in Java and outside Java. Meanwhile, Gerry van Klinken wondered if the project was prepared to break Indonesian law by registering large parcels of land. The ownership of large parcels is forbidden by a land redistribution law of 1960. But this law has not been enforced for 30 years, as the government labels it 'communist'.

The meeting closed with a vote of appreciation for Ian Anderson's readiness to discuss the project so openly with a rather critical audience.

Inside Indonesia 47: Jul-Sep 1996

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