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Juliet Ezechie
Head of International

How geospatial data can drive effective policy, taxation, and economic growth

Understanding land ownership is a core component of civic life in all nations.

Awareness of population demographics, distribution, and change over time, guides effective policy development, allowing governments to better plan services and infrastructure that cater to citizens’ needs. It also supports the implementation of effective taxation systems to raise revenue to address market failures, pay for essential goods and services, and ensure the best outcomes for their citizens.

Housing in greenfields viewed from above
Residents in informal settlements usually do not own the land their property is built on.

Incomplete or non-existent records of neighbourhoods can cause gaps in service provision resulting in the poorest people spending significantly more on basic resources than the rest of the population. For example, connection to utilities requires a record of property ownership and address – without these, inhabitants may have to rely on bottled water, which can be up to 20 times more expensive than water from the mains. This instance demonstrates a clear market failure, where a lack of data can increase the number of citizens paying for goods at higher prices, hindering an efficient use of resources.

Geospatial data can help governments to better understand property ownership and demographics, and implement new land tenure systems to reduce poverty and ensure efficient use of resources even in the face of rapid change. 

School children reading together on stone steps
Education presents opportunities, and addressing provides additional economic growth potential when used alongside access to education.

The effective delivery of infrastructure and services creates favourable conditions for increased economic activity, as transport of goods is made more reliable, and education delivers expanded opportunities to the population.

It’s also important to have a land tenure system that supports a national addressing system as addressing provides additional economic growth potential when used alongside land tenure, and access to social welfare entitlements, utility supply, education, and healthcare.

If governments are looking to increase tax revenue for public services, there is an advantage to tax immovable assets like land compared to other methods, such as increasing income tax, which can reduce incentives to work, or increasing VAT, which disproportionally affects poorer households. Land taxation can reduce economic inequality and will not create large economic inefficiencies in the process.

Registration of land provides governments with information regarding landholders and property boundaries, which supports a system of property taxes. A large-scale land titling programme in Buenos Aires helped unlock significant property investment and tax revenues in the late 2000s. However, these gains are now being reversed because 78% of property transfers since the registration programme have taken place informally, thus undermining property investment and security provision in mortgages.

The formalisation of land administration is considered a way to strengthen an effective fiscal state – when countries increase the share of land held under individual property rights, the share of income tax as a share of GDP also increases. A study found that registration of land in African countries can increase tax intake from direct taxes on individuals between 0.6 to 1.4%, showing investment in legal infrastructure in the form of public-order and information-based property administration leads to a more efficient tax state.

Maps that capture the geospatial footprint of an urban area can give countries the ability to assess property growth or land-use changes more accurately and recognise taxation at the property level.

Ordnance Survey’s work to deliver a new cost-effective basemap of Lusaka is Zambia, is already revealing new taxation capabilities based on greater insights and combination with other data sources.

Construction crew on a clay hill
Geospatial data is vital in promoting infrastructure and public services.

Geospatial data is a vital component for building modern and reliable land administration systems and effective addressing system, which in turn will promote infrastructure and public services, and underpin property taxation and economic growth. Ordnance Survey has centuries of experience in delivering the geospatial services that sit at the heart of effective land tenure – and in ensuring that land registration and addressing systems work in tandem to deliver better results for governments and citizens.

To see how to unlock the potential of your land, read our land tenure report.

By Juliet Ezechie
Head of International