ILMS in sub-Saharan Africa

How might the operation of the ILMS standard interface with a recent report of land data and information in South Africa?

Author: James Kavanagh and Tony Mulhall

06 October 2020

In 2019 the International Land Measurement Standard (ILMS) Coalition launched its standard on due diligence in land and real property. RICS, as a member of the coalition, played a leading role in producing the standard. International Land Measurement Standard: due diligence for land and real property surveying is intended to identify the key information required. ILMS has also been translated into several languages. It enables evidence-based, robust and “fit-for-purpose” assessment of land and property and is designed to deal with the current lack of transparency in land rights and interests. It is intended to assure landowners, land buyers and others dealing with land about the level of reliability and available information on a specific land parcel. This granularity is key: large areas and large groups of individual parcels can be processed but the starting point is at the individual scale of information.

Global land and property systems

There is a great deal of variability in land governance and land information systems throughout the world. Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some may have comprehensive information but not complete geographical coverage. Others may have high quality information on several elements of a property but weak information on other elements. Others may have high quality information on both but not be up to date everywhere, or all the time.

The World Bank Doing Business index is a good benchmark of how effectively nations and regions operate land and property systems.

An effective land administration system and structure will provide the lion’s share of ILMS-relevant land parcel information but there is also a need for localised knowledge and input. Indeed, in the case of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations there may be an oversupply of land parcel information, making a robust due diligence process such as ILMS even more important. Completing a due diligence exercise on a single piece of land requires the user to be aware of the degree of variability in quality of information in national and local government systems, and in privately-held information systems when looking at the number of key characteristics material to a land-related decision.

The South African Land Portal’s 2020 report State of land information in South Africa is an opportunity to consider “systemic risk” associated with reliance on mainly government data and information. The South African Land Portal aimed “to uncover the many different sources of land data and information in South Africa” to deal with the criticism that there is a lack of “land data”.

How the assessment framework works

  • Land tenure
  • Parcel identification – boundaries
  • Land area
  • Land use
  • Services
  • Building
  • Land valuation
  • Sustainability.

Verification of these components relies on supporting evidence which is assessed for its quality and reliability. Some components such as “area”, once verified and marked on the ground, are relatively permanent. Other components such as “valuation” and “land use” are less permanent and may be in a constant state of adjustment. In these cases, regular status update reports are needed and the date when data or reports are produced may be critical.

An assessment is made for each component based on the reliability of the supporting information. A traffic light system is used:

  • red indicates unreliable information
  • green indicates reliable information, and
  • yellow indicates a level of reliability somewhere in between.

The final assessment to complete the due diligence process is based on a combined risk assessment of the supporting data and information for the 8 components.

Where this information is found and how it is reliably sourced depends on the land information system in the particular jurisdiction and on governance protocols on access and open data. Some jurisdictions have a fully up-to-date official state cadastre or a similar land registry comprising much, or all the data and information required. Others have various combinations of state and local government-based data and information that may or may not be well maintained. There will be states where much of the land information is privatised and only accessible for a fee. Then there are jurisdictions where part of the territory will have up-to-date records and other parts have poor quality records or none.

For this review the authors considered all 8 components in the ILMS assessment framework to see how the data from the South African Land Portal report could be used to complete the ILMS framework.

Land data/information in South Africa

The South African report showed that 67% of key land resources are available as statistical or geospatial data, not documents. The report compiled data/information under the following headings:

  • Legal institutional and policy framework
  • Land tenure data
  • Land cover, use and management
  • Land disputes
  • Human settlement
  • Land markets and financing
  • Land, climate change and environment.

The research was about availability of data with the caveat that researchers did not check how complete or accurate the data is. Additionally, although there is “no lack of data”, 60% of the key resources were either pre-2019 or had an unidentifiable publication date, a significant constraint for time-sensitive information.

In terms of usability of data and information, additional consideration in the research was given to its provenance: where did it come from and who produced it originally? The government of South Africa was the main provider with more than 60% of all data based on this limited study. South Africa has a historically strong surveying profession and cadastre, unlike other nations in the region, such as Namibia .

The research refers to an underrepresentation of National Civil Society (NCS) perspectives which account for 8% of the total resources identified. This suggests that important data and information that NCS holds is not published in a way that makes it visible to a wider audience. This may also be accounted for by the prevalence of tribally controlled lands and the localised power of tribal hierarchies shown in the map.

Spatial Data Services Africa,, © 2018

The research also shows that the knowledge resource identified is published online – 97% – and is mostly available free – 75% – although for many of the key resources identified – 40% – there was still a log-in barrier or some requirement to identify oneself before accessing the data.

ILMS due diligence exercise

ILMS can feed information into the established land information system and draw information from it where appropriate. It can also function as a standalone framework where there is no effective or up-to-date land information system, in large parts of the world where no formal rights exist, nor registers are maintained.

“ILMS is designed to be applied in a flexible manner, responding to local circumstances and proportionate to the risk. It is not prescriptive. A data rich environment might allow all main elements and multiple sub-elements of the due diligence framework to be completed. A poor data environment might limit the number of components that can be collated from documentary sources and might highlight the need for additional data collection.” (ILMS)

ILMS is also conducted on a fit-for-purpose basis. This means that the requirements may “range from a very broad approximation for some temporary purpose or lower value asset to a precise calculation for higher value land transfer or other reasons” (ILMS). The importance of fit-for-purpose concepts in land administration has been recently underlined by Kadaster International.

Table 1 takes the 8 ILMS components and considers to what extent the South African data/information sources fulfil the due diligence purpose. 

Table 1: ILMS components and South African data sources


The ILMS standard is an important building block to support the development of fully fledged land information systems particularly where land rights are not clearly defined or documented.

It is clear from Table 1 that the South African land information system has the infrastructure to capture some of the key data and information required to provide assurance to those dealing with individual parcels of land. It is important to recognise that some information is site specific and some is generic, needing more specific detail at site level. In addition, time-sensitive information, such as valuations, usually need to be reported when the decision about the land is being made.

The importance of land in society and of transparency in land information cannot be overstressed. Where there has been a legacy of inadequate or incomplete land-based reforms the state record of ownership may be contested. Indeed, several parties may present a documented claim indicating legitimate ownership thereby undermining the veracity and reliability of the state register.

“The importance of land in society and of transparency in land information cannot be overstressed”

Increasingly, new technological platforms are offering the possibility of improved information. Many countries are beginning to experiment with blockchain technologies as part of their land registration and land transaction infrastructure. The appeal of the framework developed through ILMS is that its principles apply regardless of the level of technology.

It is important to distinguish between the technological platforms that support land information systems and the quality of the content being input. The reliability of the information, and therefore the risk associated with any land or property transaction, is entirely dependent on these inputs.

In setting up the National Spatial Planning Data Repository (NSPDR), South Africa recognises the importance of an effective land information system. But critically, one of the questions raised in the report is whether this NSPDR is functional, up to date and reliable.

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