From the Ground Up: Developing Jamaica’s National Land Agency, 2000-2016


In 2001, registering or transferring land in Jamaica was an uphill battle. Four separate departments handled different aspects of land administration, leading to weak coordination and delay. Even straightforward transactions dragged on for weeks, simply getting information was a struggle, and fraud was commonplace. In April of that year, Jamaica established the National Land Agency, charged with merging the four departments, speeding up services, and improving their quality. As the new agency’s CEO, Elizabeth Stair led a team of managers that had to oversee the consolidation, design systems to prevent fraud, improve performance, and implement new procedures and technologies to increase speed and transparency. During its first decade and a half of operation, the National Land Agency significantly reduced processing times and won acclaim for its customer service and innovative use of technology. Despite these successes, there was still room to improve land tenure security. Stiff documentation requirements, high costs, and limited awareness of the process meant that registration and related services remained out of reach for many Jamaicans.

Lessons Learned

  • Advantages of functional consolidation. Merging four divisions into a single semi-autonomous agency allowed the government to streamline service delivery, standardize procedures, and reduce processing times.
  • Overcoming resistance and curbing graft. A strong, unified management team and a consistent message helped answer internal opposition and external critics of the transition. Staff retraining, individualized targets for performance tied to financial incentives, and new procedures and technologies helped establish a new operational culture.
  • Additional barriers remain. Despite the agency’s successes, Jamaica’s overall experience also demonstrates the range of additional barriers to land registration, including stiff documentation requirements, high costs in the form of fees and taxes, and limited awareness of the requirements, that can prevent many property owners from formalizing their claims.


Maya Gainer drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Kingston, Jamaica, in June 2016. The Omidyar Network funded the development of this case study. Case published January 2017.

A 2017 workshop, Driving Change, Securing Tenure, profiled recent initiatives to strengthen tenure security and reform land registration systems in seven countries: South AfricaCanadaJamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, Australia and Tanzania.

Watch the video of Elizabeth Stair - CEO and Commissioner of Lands, Jamaican National Land Agency.

digitization of records
executive agencies
land administration
tenure security
land titles
fraud prevention
information access
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Property Rights & Land
Critical Tasks
Computerization of records
Evaluating performance
Independent agencies
Land registration
Performance management system
Sequencing reform
Technology & innovation initiatives
Core Challenge
Contracting out (creating semi-autonomous agencies)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Maya Gainer