NEWS

Spurned by EU, national cadastre founders

One of Greece’s most important works in progress, the national cadastre, or land registry, has stalled due to lack of funding, administrative ineptitude and the absence of a legal framework, and its continuation under present conditions seems well-nigh impossible. Billed as the biggest of the big projects, Greece’s land register has been bedeviled with problems from the start, many of which have been attributed to former Ministry of Planning, Public Works and the Environment (YPEHODE) heads Costas Laliotis and Vasso Papandreou. Supposedly, dozens of cadastral offices are undertaking the task of registering Greece’s public and private real estate, under state guarantee, and helping to simplify procedures. Legal chaos In reality, the offices cannot guarantee either the location, the size or the shape of the property. Moreover, the work of registering property has succumbed to the legal chaos that characterizes the very concept of property in this country. The committees that were set up to adjudicate in cases of objection followed such bizarre tactics, issuing different decisions for similar cases, that not only did they fail to create any set of legal precedents for dealing with legal claims but further complicated the situation. Thus properties may be registered in the cadastre as wholly different from what they are in reality (a polygon instead of a square). Owners and claimants have gone to court in many cases. Furthermore, while the cadastre ought to have facilitated and speeded up procedures for transferring real estate, disputed properties – estimates say these account for 40 percent of everything registered up to now – have to wait for a final judicial decision before any form of transaction can take place. No one, after all, would dare to a buy a property that is described by the owner as being of a certain size and shape, but is said to be totally different in the relevant section of the land register. The government has been grappling with the situation since it came to power in the March 7 elections (less than two months ago). New YPEHODE Minister Giorgos Souflias spoke of «turning today’s unfavorable situation around through immediate interventions on a financial, administrative and legal level.» A few days before last month’s elections, former YPEHODE Minister Vasso Papandreou proceeded to change the fee system for registering title deeds. The sum of 30 to 800 euros, depending on the value of the property, that was to be paid by the final owner, has been reduced to 20 euros per title deed holder, which must be paid at the time of initial application. YPEHODE thus arbitrarily reduced the total cost of the work from 2.5 billion euros to just 1 billion, arguing that the 20 euros per owner would suffice to pay for the national cadastre. But both the new government and the Technical Chamber regard this sum as being far removed from reality. YPEHODE officials have left open the question of raising the fee levels. Money is also needed for the new studies (56 areas announced in November 2002 were never assigned), thus officials have not ruled out a new combined fee system – a downpayment, followed by a sum of money upon approval of the title deeds, to be calculated on the value of the property. A once-bitten European Union has fought shy of disbursing further funding for the project, contributing to its financial troubles. An announcement by the ministry on February 3 – during the last administration – trumpeted the restoration of funds for the cadastre from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII). «The national cadastre will be funded to the tune of 110 million euros from CSFIII, following an agreement between the Greek government and the European Commission. With (these monies), the funding of the work to register all the country’s real estate, starting with urban areas, has been secured,» it said. A few days after the elections, a letter written by Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier gave a different reading of the truth. The project the money would pay for was «a digital database for title deeds at present in paper document form.» Only 55 million euros was being provided for the cadastre, said the letter, which pointed out that «the Commission does not foresee, at present stage, any more funding for this project.» The same letter disclosed the new plan of operations for the cadastre, sent by the Greek side, which foresaw the completion of the work by 2013, at a total cost of 500 million euros. Papandreou and the heads of the company responsible for the register, Ktimatologio SA, were talking a price tag of 1 billion euros. The company bears a significant share of the responsibility for the debacle, according to researchers, by failing to make procedures elastic enough. Specifications for surveys assigned as early as 1998 were still being sent right up to December 2003. The surveyors’ demand for a special web page on Ktimatologio’s website on which title deed holders could write in with both problems and solutions was never met. State versus foresters But researchers at the offices themselves unofficially admit – officially they are demanding fresh surveys – that they themselves would not proceed with further studies. Initial studies resulted in the accumulation of a vast amount of information, on owners as well as the legal basis of private ownership in Greece. A basic prerequisite for a smooth registration is the completion of forestland maps. As both the Technical Chamber and the Bar Association believe, acknowledging ownership on the basis of usucaption is not an acceptable solution. Nor can forestland maps languish for years waiting for approval. The State and Forestry Service can also not be seen to squabble over which of the two owns an expanse of land. If that is the situation, who or what does the Forestry Service, as a public body, belong to?