Reconstruction of Aceh Land Administration System (RALAS)

Down to Earth No 68  February 2006

Questions are being raised over a World Bank-funded land titling project in post-tsunami Aceh.

Securing land tenure has become one of the priorities in the reconstruction of Aceh, post-tsunami. More than half a million affected people have had to endure changes to the landscape and have been left without evidence of their property rights. According to the national land agency, BPN, approximately 300,000 land parcels have been affected by the tsunami. Of these, only around 60,000 - less than 25% - were titled [i].

When the tsunami hit Aceh, none of the land records stored in BPN offices across the province escaped the calamity. All were either damaged or destroyed. An initial JICA-funded project attempted to recover and reproduce the damaged documents. BPN reported around 80% of the damaged documents had been recovered by December 2005. Unfortunately, all the cadastral index maps were irretrievably lost.

The World Bank, as coordinator of the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Aceh and North Sumatra (MDTFANS), is providing a US$28.5 million grant for a project called 'Reconstruction of Aceh Land Administration System' - RALAS. BPN is the responsible agency for the project that will run for more than 3 years from 1st July 2005 until 31st December 2008. The project consists of three components: a) Reconstruction of property rights and issuance of land titles; b) Reconstruction of BPN institutions in Aceh; and c) Project management.

Besides rebuilding the infrastructure of BPN in the aftermath of the tsunami, including recruitment of new BPN personnel and capacity building, the project involves the registration of land ownership rights. BPN aims to title 300,000 land parcels in the tsunami-affected areas within 18 months and expects to complete titling a further 300,000 parcels located in the unaffected areas[ii]. The Minister of Finance has agreed to waive taxes, fees and charges for land registration to guarantee land titling at no cost for the people of Aceh. By the first anniversary of the tsunami, approximately 5,000 land certificates had been distributed and reported to the President of Indonesia [iii].

Community mapping
This project has thrown up several important issues that need to be addressed. A number of NGOs working on the reconstruction of Aceh have taken the initiative to carry out community land mapping in response to the urgency of resettlement. However, there are indications of dissimilar approaches between some NGOs and BPN. Whilst NGOs, such as UP-Link, are focusing more on participatory planning and land consolidation, BPN focuses on identification and adjudication of pre-tsunami land rights. This led to a protest staged by villagers from the area of Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar facilitated by UP-Link. The protest was against BPN's approach, which is seen as a waste of time and money and creating uncertainty about the legal status of community maps produced or facilitated by NGOs [iv]. The incident prompted a suggestion to improve the effectiveness of an NGO Forum set up as a coordination point between BPN and NGOs.

Relocation of displaced people affected by the tsunami is not straight forward. Relocating people - sometimes against their will - from their lands, which have become unsafe after the tsunami, compensation for lands designated for relocating displaced people, claims of pre-tsunami land holders and their heirs, are only a few examples of potential problems.

Particularly in rural areas, there are also some complex issues raised by systematised land titling on lands that were uncertified before the tsunami, some of which were lands belonging to poor people who could not afford titling and hence have no evidence of rights, and some of which were lands held under customary communal tenures (tanah ulayat). The RALAS project proposal does include a conflict resolution procedure which may help sort out some of these issues. When a land is subject to conflict, registration of the land parcel will not take place. A UNDP/ Oxfam report [v] suggests a reform of the law so that there is "clarification of the boundaries of State land and the status of communal land rights".

Bearing in mind that land titling tends to convert diverse forms of communal rights into simplistic property rights in line with 'positive' laws, the burning question is: what kind of land rights should be granted to non-individual or communal lands under the BPN's land titling project?

  1. WB Appraisal Report for a proposed MDTFANS Grant to the GoI for a RALAS Project, 22 June 2005.
  2. Fitzpatrick, D. 14 July 2005. 'Restoring and Confirming Rights to Land in Tsunami-Affected Aceh'. A UNDP/OXFAM Report
  3. 'Ratusan Bendel Buku Tanah Dikembalikan ke Aceh',, 25 December 2005.
  4. 'Wardah Hafidz Koordinir Demo Tuntut BPN Hentikan Pengukuran Tanah', 31 October 2005, quoted from Serambi Indonesia.
  5. Fitzpatrick, op cit