• English

(Rome, Italy, 19-20 September 2002)
Opening remarks by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová
Executive Secretary
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)


Ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellencies,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to the first Conference of the UNECE Land for Development Programme. It is a particular pleasure to do so in Rome: the cradle of European civilisation and testimony to how some of the world's greatest architecture in antiquity contributes, even after such a long time, to the city's dynamic economic prosperity. Truly, we can learn a great deal from how Rome and Italy, amongst others, have organised their land and property markets for the success of the economy and for the wealth of the people. Sincere thanks too to our hosting organisation and member of the UNECE Real Estate Advisory Group, Tecnoborsa, for the generous support which has allowed so many of our government representatives to attend. Thanks also to REAG and its chairman Robert Hall for its support in the preparations.

Purpose and Background

The purpose of the conference is to examine how land can be used for development; to benefit all our citizens and particularly the most disadvantaged and the poor. As you are aware since September 11th the international community has redoubled its efforts to find solutions to underdevelopment and poverty. These tragic events demonstrated the need to untie the link between poverty, social exclusion and the rise of violence and international terrorism. The Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, and the recent United Nations Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, were important steps in that direction and have emphasised the high priority that governments attach to this objective.

The UNECE has for many years set out a number of standards in land administration and has prepared guidelines on the legal conditions for creating viable real estate markets. The Land for Development Programme is an attempt to go beyond the technical and legal and to integrate the concept of 'development' into a sustainable land policy. Sustainable land for development polices are policies where all key components are in balance, that is which are protecting the environment; which are developing land as an asset for economic growth and finally which are increasing the participation of all citizens in property markets. Last year the UNECE Real Estate Advisory Group launched this vision of land for development.

Central challenge and ultimate goal

This vision of a sustainable land policy is still not a reality in most UNECE member States. Governments still too often neglect the environment - too many UNECE environmental conventions are unratified. Land and property assets are not used sufficiently to generate economic growth - the international economist Hernando De Soto has shown that a large amount of property in many transition countries is not working for growth but is rather 'dead capital'. The bulk of the population in many transition economies moreover find themselves outside the legal system, holding property but without the legal security to enable them to trade the property and use its value to improve their prospects. Thus, we need first to tackle inequality and the unequal access of the population to property rights; liberalisation and markets have developed but have not generated the economic transformation that allows the incomes of the poor to rise. Secondly, we need to address the insecure nature of property rights and the informality in the economy to which it gives rise. The 'grey economy' is large because people choose to work outside the legal economy rather then face what is perceived as the difficult 'legal' property system. This lack of confidence in secure property rights has a considerable negative impact on investor confidence as well as reducing the amount of revenues to governments from taxation. Thirdly we need a more integrated land policy, which provides for a broader policy framework, improved targeting of the poor; and which encourages the integration of civil society and the private sector into a well functioning property market system.

Expectations and outcomes

Little can be achieved towards these goals without closer cooperation between governments, international organisations, the private sector and civil society. This meeting will be immensely significant if we can achieve firstly a pooling of resources amongst donors from the public and private sectors so that we can work together and have a stronger impact. This means breaking down barriers between different approaches, economists, surveyors, lawyers, as well as going beyond the split between rural and urban property. We need in this regard to work closely with the FAO and other international bodies, institutions and NGOs engaged in this field. Secondly, we need close working relationship with the private sector in implementing the land for development programme. Private firms will need to be encouraged to enter transition economies where the levels of income mean that they may not obtain the sort of rate of return they receive in mature market economies. In other industries companies are adjusting the prices and tailoring their goods and services to low-income groups and this can take place in the property sector as well. We are encouraged that the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) along with the RICS Foundation have been contributing positively to the better use of land in the transition economies. Thirdly, political support and interest in this initiative from our governments is needed: the large number of governments which have already supplied us with detailed responses to the UNECE benchmark survey of land markets in transition economies shows, we believe, already a very strong interest and commitment from governments to this exercise.

Building on this support, the new interest from research on the topic of land for development, and the desire of different groups to become involved in promoting a broader conceptualisation of a land policy, we wish to propose that from this meeting we establish a top level group of international experts on land and to commission from them a report on how governments can establish an integrated land policy, identifying the priorities as well as the implementation strategies. It is our intention to propose a follow-up conference to discuss the responses to the report. Holding consultations between the experts, REAG and governments on their responses to this report will allow us to see movement as well as to stimulate changes in government thinking and policy. This high level group of individuals can help raise awareness and build a dialogue within countries on implementing these objectives. We look forward to hearing your opinions on this recommendation and on others for the follow-up.

In conclusion:

I reiterate my cordial welcome to you to Rome and my hope that your deliberations, and the conclusions and follow-up to this meeting, are successful.