Typically Greek, delayed land register is never-ending epic

Sun Oct 18, 2015 1:10pm EDT
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By Paul Taylor and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - When Greece applied for its first international bailout in 2010, only two countries in Europe lacked a computerized register of land ownership and usage. Albania was the other.

Experts from European Union and International Monetary Fund identified the lack of legal certainty about property rights and land usage as a major barrier to investment, proper taxation and economic development.

Five years on, Greece is on its third EU/IMF bailout. Each of those program has made a priority of completing a land register, known as a cadastre. Yet it is still less than half done despite spending hundreds of millions of euros with technical assistance from EU partners.

Meanwhile Albania, a far poorer Balkan neighbors that is still a distant candidate for EU membership, has leapfrogged Greece and implemented a digitized land registry and zoning map, even if some holes remain.

Greek newspapers call the never-ending epic of the cadastre, started in 1995 with EU funds that had to be returned to Brussels in 2003 because of misuse, "our national shame".

It is a microcosm of everything that remains to be fixed in the country - bureaucracy, political patronage, competing layers of government, legal complexity, fiscal uncertainty, vested interests, cheating, tax evasion and opaque relations between the two biggest landowners - the state and the church.

The continued absence of a comprehensive land registry is one reason why a privatization program announced in 2011 and initially meant to raise 50 billion euros ($56.73 billion) over five years has netted a mere 3.1 billion euros to date.

Roughly half of deals so far have come from the sale or lease of state land, including a flagship plan to sell the disused Hellenikon airport site next to Athens which is still stalled.   Continued...

Decommissioned Olympic Airways passenger planes are seen at the former international Hellenikon airport in Athens, Greece, October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis