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

The role of municipal governments

This module analyses the intervention of LAPs at subnational level, placing particular emphasis on the effects of LAPs on subnational entities corresponding to municipalities and to a lesser extent the effects within Indigenous Communities and Territories (ICT).

Decentralization processes in Latin America

The Municipal Government is the territorial body in charge of the municipal territory or municipality; it enjoys political, fiscal and administrative autonomy within the limits agreed by the constitution and the decentralization laws of each country.
In Latin America, municipal governments began to take on administrative, political and tax functions from the 1980s onwards, with the new political and administrative division of national territories1. This decentralization process was driven by the growing demands for services in the provinces and by the change in perception in relation to citizen participation, which stopped being seen as a risk and came to be considered a solution in terms of protecting the strategic resources of territories2.
In recent years municipal governments have stronger powers from central government and as a result of decentralized cooperation. This is partly due to decentralized management having demonstrated good results in terms of citizen participation3, meeting the needs of the population, fighting poverty4, and accountability and transparency5.

The main characteristics of municipal governments

Municipal governments are not part of the executive government but are autonomous authorities, elected directly by the people with a mandate to promote the development of their territory.

They have extensive powers to set up their own local projects and standards, provided they do not contravene national legislation. The functions of municipal governments include the following:

  • Provision of state-run home services and basic unmet needs as regards health, education, environmental cleanliness, drinking water in homes, recreation and sport.
  • Organization and planning of the economic, social and environmental development of their territory and construction of facilities required for municipal progress.
  • Control of the appropriate management of renewable natural resources and the environment.
  • Promotion of community participation and the social and cultural improvement of their inhabitants6.

Each country has set limits on municipal autonomy differently, however there are common spheres within which municipal governments can act independently:

  • In the political sphere: by establishing local policies, plans and regulatory mechanisms.
  • In the financial sphere: by municipal taxation, costs, funding, definition and implementation of the budget.
  • In the administrative sphere: by internal organization, technical aspects, provision of municipal public services, and contracting and deployment of staff.

The powers of municipal governments in land administration

In Latin America there is no homogeneous model for the functions and powers of municipal governments in terms of land administration, however the decentralization policies started during the 1980s prompted municipal authorities to establish their own systems for raising property taxes and institutions for the administration of land and receipts.
Through these powers, municipal governments perform a key role in land titling and in cadastral mapping. As regards land titling, municipal governments have powers for transferring, titling and raising to full tenure land registered in the name of municipal governments (ejidos, shipyards, municipal forests, etc.).
As regards cadastral mapping, the power to collect property taxes (except in El Salvador) has led to the creation of fiscal cadastres, and these have supported the planning and creation of public facilities and risk prevention plans within municipalities. The same municipalities are in charge of cadastral updating, however, in several countries in the region, intermediate authorities have been set up between central government and municipal governments, at the level of departments, provinces or federal states (as in Mexico and Brazil) with the aim of supporting municipalities in cadastral updating work.

The various models for the decentralization and deconcentration of land administration functions

The various models for the decentralization and deconcentration of land administration functions


1 Lora, E. (2007).
2 Larson, A. & Soto, F. (2008).
3 Sabaini, J. & al. (2007); Montero, A. & Samuels, D. (2004).
4 Burns, T. (2007); Sabaini, J. & al. (2007).
5 Banco Mundial (2000).
6 FAO (2003).