The Case of Georgia's Disappearing Property Deeds
The Republic of Georgia's latest technological innovation has turned into a bit of a disaster for the country's property owners.
In 2007, Georgia began a USAID-funded project to digitize its land registration records. The effort was meant to bolster the country's reputation to investors. Instead, it transferred hundreds of parcels of property from private owners into state hands, according to an investigation by Transparency International Georgia.
This happened most often in Achara and Svaneti, areas where President Mikheil Saakashvili is pushing major development projects.
Transparency International calls this a "grave violation" of property rights. In one instance, Georgian Omar Akubardia moved from Russia to the city of Anaklia in 2007, spending $160,000 on a shoreline home. Three years later, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced a mega-tourism development project in Anaklia, complete with an airport and sea port.
Akubardia was initially excited about the project. But when he attempted to re-register his property in the digital database, he found his land title no longer existed. As Eurasianet reports:
Without his knowledge, he claims, the registration code for his land was changed and a new GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) address was assigned. Subsequently, the government sold the land plot in 2009 to a private company charged with building Anaklia’s new port.
Transparency International’s Gvilava faults the government for flaws in the system. Older paper registrations appear not to have been uniformly updated into the new system, meaning that those who registered their property before the digital registry started were often simply not included. In effect, their land titles vanished.
The government denies these accusations, noting that the they conducted an "exhaustive search" through the agencies' old paper-based archive.
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