The module 3 corresponds to the level of intervention of subnational entities, i.e. Municipal Districts and Indigenous Communities and Territories (ICT) where LAPs seek to promote multipurpose land administration systems.

Module 3: LAPs and Subnational Entities

External factors influencing the development of LAPs at subnational level

The implementation and sustainability of land administration systems at local level require a favourable social, legal, economic and technical context within which the programmes can operate. When analysing the competences of the municipal governments of Central American countries, it is important to consider both the legal framework and the decentralization policies which determine subnational autonomy, as well as the institutional structure allowing these provisions to be implemented. Access to infrastructures within the territory and the cultural context in which the economic context existing in the area and the forms of management of resources are defined should also be considered.

Aspects that influence the effects of LAPs on municipalities

Aspects that influence the effects of LAPs on municipalities

The political and institutional setting

A favourable setting in this respect means the following:

a) Decentralization policies that provide a clear framework of competences for municipal governments and their possible groupings (association scheme).
b) Legal and regulatory framework which specifies the powers and functions of municipal governments as regards land administration.
c) National land and territory administration institutions which can establish formal links with municipal governments (cadastre, registration, institutions for tenure regularization, territorial planning, etc.) as regards information exchange and capacity building.

During the implementation of LAPs, the theme of municipal autonomy will influence key aspects such as:

  • The interest and level of participation of the municipality in processes. The way in which the political and decision-making body of a local government will perceive the risks and benefits of the project versus its own interests.
  • The level of long-term implementation of cadastral and territorial information systems.
  • The frequency of rotation of specialist municipal staff.
  • The type of use of cadastral and territorial information.
  • The long-term sustainability of LAP systems and benefits.
  • The level of citizen participation.
  • The level of legitimacy and confidence in processes.

In Central America LAPs have considered it a priority to define and reconcile links between the cadastral competences of municipal governments and national cadastres to establish systems capable of working in a coordinated manner. This task usually starts from an analysis of the competences and capabilities of both government levels. National cadastre institutions are generally responsible for establishing, maintaining and updating the cadastre, as well as defining policies and establishing agreements with other authorities. At a local level, the main use of cadastral information was to collect property taxes, but efforts have been made to link cadastres to other functions. The work of registering titled land in land registers is generally exclusively the task of centralized institutions which grant their registrars the status of civil servants. However, efforts have been made to give greater powers to municipal governments for land registration, and the Property Law in Honduras (2004) establishes the Associated Centres of the Land Institute for cadastral, titling and registration matters.

The importance of legal frameworks in land administration in municipal governments: Nicaragua

The importance of legal frameworks in land administration in municipal governments: Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, the National Constitution defines the municipality as the basic unit of the political and administrative division of the country. The 1995 constitutional reform restates municipal autonomy and establishes the compulsory nature of allocating a sufficient percentage of the budget to the country’s municipalities. The municipalities law, approved in 1999, strengthens the constituent regulation and states that the national territory is divided, for its administration, into departments, autonomous regions of the Atlantic coast and municipalities, the latter being the basic unit of the political and administrative division of the country. The same law defines the scope of municipal autonomy in the management and provision of its own resources.
The Municipal budgetary system law, in force since 2001, regulates the budget as regards both income and expenditure, and defines the salaries of elected authorities and councillors’ allowances for municipal council meetings; it establishes a minimum percentage for investment expenses, and regulates credit and post-procedure operations for developing, approving and modifying the municipal budget. The law on municipal solvency has been in force since 2003 to implement the collection of municipal taxes mentioned in the corresponding laws, thus allowing them to be able to carry out their responsibilities according to the municipalities law.
The municipal transfers law of Nicaragua was approved in 2003 and establishes the distribution of tax receipts to municipalities in the greatest need.
The national cadastre law, approved in 2004, sets out the institutional legal framework of the cadastre, placing the emphasis on the municipal cadastre so that it serves as an instrument for strengthening taxation systems through the collection of property taxes. This law has also been considered an instrument for supporting territorial planning for the legal security of property.
By 2004 municipal government receipts were being distributed equally between municipal resources (with which they can freely perform their duties involving expenditure) and receipts for transfers and donations. It should be noted that the tax collection system is the largest source of funds for municipal governments, making up 84 percent of all of their tax receipts. Municipal income tax (IMI) produces 53 percent of tax receipts. The IBI doubled tax collection levels between 2000 and 2004, increasing them from 11 percent to 14.3 percent of tax receipts, and the “registration and licence tax” contributed approximately 11 percent of tax receipts. Taxes that represent 15 percent of the total tax receipts are mostly collected through services provided; those corresponding to “powers to do” generate the most resources.
The percentage representing the collection of local property taxes in total receipts is variable, depending mainly on the size of the urban area. In rural municipalities, this type of tax usually represents less than 10 percent of total municipal receipts.

The cultural setting

The quality of land administration services and the means of implementing them will depend greatly on the following:

a) The values and standards that communities have set up for use and access to land and natural resources.
b) Their organization systems and social participation practices (municipalities with a strong indigenous culture and presence usually have their own organization systems).
c) Preliminary efforts by the population to organize the use of their territory as regards the preservation of natural areas, protection of catchment areas, forestry use, etc.

The cultural setting refers here to the traditional form of administration of land and natural resources. There is a strong tradition in Latin America of common management of communal land, land owned under the ejido system, municipal shipyards and in particular indigenous territories. This cultural setting greatly influences the scope of LAPs as it can limit the competences of the municipal authority as regards titling, management and territorial planning. For example, in the case of land owned under the ejido system, private titling requires the agreement of the other members of the ejido, while in the case of indigenous communities, titling and registration in the land register is not permitted. Generally, territories with common management maintain a more holistic view of the access, use and management of natural resources, which frequently include sacred sites within the territory.

By contrast, there are territories where economic activities have traditionally been linked to the extraction of natural resources, such as forestry use, fishing or mining. Consequently regulatory frameworks may have been set up in these territories, which have guided the form of land management, territorial planning and natural resource use.

The cultural conditions that can influence the results of LAPs at municipal level are the following:

  • The form of decision making by members (who participate).
  • The organization of the government structure (committee of elders for ICT, presence or absence of a land committee, level of participation of women, etc.).
  • The level of awareness of the legal and national institutional framework.
  • The strength of customary right and other forms of self-regulation of access to land and natural resources.
  • The presence within the territory of areas with special management and ceremonial sites.

Economic characteristics

Municipalities with more sustained economic growth will tend to do the following:

a) Generate income through raising taxes.
b) Have greater demand for land and therefore a more dynamic market
c) Provide better services to its citizens because there is greater demand for them and resource availability

In municipal districts where there is greater economic dynamism linked to production or extensive urban growth, the land market will be far more dynamic. This situation clearly influences the policies and priorities of municipalities as regards their systems of land administration, raising taxes and developing infrastructure and services. This similarly determines the capability of municipalities as regards raising taxes and generating additional income and, as a consequence, the financial sustainability of local cadastral units and the provision of other services.

Land administration can similarly influence taxation policies and decision-making processes, as an unfair distribution of land and other assets may limit the ability to regulate or increase the tax burden on powerful local elites2.

Similarly the lack of local opportunities for generating income can increase migration processes and limit opportunities for the socioeconomic development of municipalities and lead to land reconcentration. Without real opportunities to enter the production market or the labour market, tenure titling can contribute to the sale of land by poorer peasants and accentuate the rural exodus. Studies carried out in Guatemala and Honduras mention the impact of titling and numerous sales of family and cooperative land due to the need for monetary resources3.

In Honduras the LAP II decided to concentrate on municipalities with a more active land market, with the aim of prioritizing the updating of the cadastre and register where the land market was more mobile.

Priority areas in Honduras

Priority areas in Honduras

With the aim of objectively identifying municipalities where there were cadastral updating and property titling efforts in LAP phase II, the government of Honduras established a mechanism for selecting areas, based on the quantity of real estate transactions carried out monthly in the corresponding land registers, considering mortgages, fragmentations, mergers and property transfers generated by official institutions. It was therefore decided to prioritize municipalities with more than 800 monthly transactions4.

Available infrastructures

For the provision of land administration services, access is required to the following:

a) Highways connecting municipalities.
b) Highways allowing access between population centres in the same municipality and its capital.
c) Internet.
d) IT networks and connectivity with national or departmental information systems.

Modern land administration systems use data gathered by satellite technology, geographical information systems and information contained in computerized databases. These new systems need existing data infrastructures and connectivity to national information networks. In Asian countries access to the internet has been shown to guarantee better results in LAPs4.

Municipalities with high demographic dispersion also need internal communication channels and access to transport systems. This can facilitate access for inhabitants to municipal cadastral units, tax collection offices, tenure titling agencies or dispute resolution authorities. Infrastructures will similarly support operations in markets, capital use and creation, soil use planning, urban and rural infrastructure and to a large extent natural resource management5.


1 Sabaini, J. G., & Geffner, M. (2007). Nicaragua: el papel de los municipios como instrumento para el combate de la pobreza (Vol. 131). UN (2004). Informe Pais. Tendencias en la Descentralización, el Fortalecimiento Municipal y la participacion ciudadana en America Central
2 Zander, M., & Dürr, J. (2011). Dynamics in land tenure, local power and the peasant economy: the case of Petén, Guatemala. International Conference on Global Land Grabbing; Macías, M. (2001). Bajo-Aguán de Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras.
3 Manual de Operación del PATH para la selección del área geográfica de atención prioritaria
4 Adlington, G. (2002). Comparative Study of Land Administration Systems. World Bank.
5 Williamson, I. P. (2001). Land administration “best practice” providing the infrastructure for land policy implementation. Land Use Policy, 297-307.