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Zim government mulls making some needed changes to the Deeds office
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Zim government mulls making some needed changes to the Deeds office

Over the last couple of articles, we examined the issue of title deeds in Zimbabwe. For starters, we ruminated over the fact that, while title deeds have been traditionally considered the most secure form of immovable property ownership, they are not without their flaws. We also hinted at the fact that there is now rampant manipulation of title deeds which means you have to be careful if you hold title deeds to a property, intend to buy a property with title deeds or do anything involving title deeds. They are not the foolproof documents people think they are.

To be clear, title deeds are often better than other forms of ownership which are even harder to prove. While it is very possible to commit fraud involving title deeds, it is a more involved process compared to say trying to sell an urban property without deeds (cessation) multiple times. In fact with communal land/properties, the government retains ultimate control and can kick you off at any time by simply creating a Statutory Instrument or showing cause.

Zimbabwean government mulls changes

The flaws of deeds are not a secret and with the passage of time more and more fraudsters are exploiting them. Recently, according to a report by Business Times. Various players in the Real Estate sector (in the form of Integrated Properties) called upon the government to expedite some much needed proposed changes to the Deeds Office. Chief among them is the digitisation of operations at the Deeds Office and the setting up of a Companies and Intellectual Property Office of Zimbabwe.

One reason for an increase in fraud cases is that it’s not easy to access records from the Deeds Office and there have been cases where some deeds have even been misplaced making verification difficult. Then there is also the fact that there are only two offices one can go to - one in Bulawayo and another in Harare. Even before the pandemic, making the journey from other towns was not easy - now thanks to COVID the whole process would be a nightmare.

Digitisation would solve all these problems. All the stakeholders in question would need to do is go to the Deeds website, log in and then access the information they need from wherever in the world they are. Not only that, it makes notifying stakeholders of impending changes to a Deed easier. The system could be set up to alert those concerned via email, SMS or WhatsApp whenever someone attempts to change ownership of a Deed.

The government for its part seems receptive to these suggestions. Recently they approved the establishment of the Companies and Intellectual Property Office of Zimbabwe which is set to handle all matters involving companies and property deeds. This would free up the Deeds Office so it can focus solely on Deeds issues. At the moment Companies, registration and Intellectual property are handled by departments of the Deeds Office.

Freeing up the Deeds Office from other burdensome tasks and having it focus solely on Deeds will likely improve service delivery, allow specialisation and reduce the current turnaround time. This coupled with digitisation would rein in fraud that’s threatening the entire sector.

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