Feature Article of Wednesday, 10 December 2003
Columnist: Tsikata, Peter Atsu
The shutdown of the premier Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Ghana, Network Computer Systems (NCS), is such an alarming development in the economy of Ghana it brings to the forefront one very important subject area we have completely ignored in our real estate development: THE SUBJECT OF LAND TITLE INSURANCE. I am sure people in Ghana who have become very used to the Internet as their medium of communication today must be completely stunned to wake up one day only to find out that they cannot use that service anymore, simply because of a LAND DISPUTE between the ISP and one very powerful Ghanaian individual!
Indeed, in the USA, shutting down NCS in Ghana is the equivalent of shutting down AOL, MSN and YAHOO concurrently! You can imagine the chaos and the ripple effects that could have on the American economy and the reverberations it will have worldwide. The economic and financial loss will be colossal. This is how serious the problem is even if it is in a country of only 20 million people and the earlier we resolved the underlying issue in this dispute, the better for our country.
NCS vs UTC ESTATES
Who is the real owner of the land in dispute in the NCS vs UTC Estates case? Is it the Ghana Lands Commission or UTC Estates? Is it Sam Jonah or Finiba Arthur? Or is it the Osu Stool of Accra? Who is the true owner? It is not surprising that because of this difficulty in determining the true ownership of land in our country people have even resulted to the use of such crude methods as "land guards" to protect their properties.
In the high profile NCS vs UTC Estates case, we are suddenly finding out that people who have an interest in any property in Ghana could remain in hiding and keep SILENT over their stake in that property until a business takes a leasehold and develops their business to full bloom before these owners spring forward to announce their interest in that particular property purely for the sole purpose of extorting money from such businesses. If this is not the equivalent of an economic hijack, I don't know what is!
If it could happen to NCS, it could happen to any fledgeling business in Ghana today and the earlier we stopped this in its tracks, the better for our economy.
HOW CAN WE SOLVE THIS TEETHING PROBLEM?
Folks, the developed nations of the world today have at one stage or the other gone through such teething problems with land as our country is going through today. These countries over the years have found solutions which have been tested and proven to work seamlessly and have brought a lot of sanity into their land administration. One of such tested and proven methods is TITLE INSURANCE and there is absolutely nothing wrong with developing countries importing such concepts wholesale into their economic systems if that will help remove the chaos we find ourselves in today.
WHAT IS LAND TITLE INSURANCE?
Just as the NCS vs UTC Estates case has brought the subject to the forefront in year 2003, it was the landmark case of Watson vs Muirhead in year 1868 that forced the Legislature of the State of Pennsylvania to enact a law allowing for the incorporation of Title Insurance companies. The first Title Insurance company was organized and opened in Philadelphia in 1876. Indeed, there was such a large consumer demand for greater security as well as expedience in real estate transactions that the concept literally mushroomed all over the US and a whole new industry was born. Today, it is the medium of choice to guarantee title to any piece of property you purchase in the USA.
What is Title Insurance? Very simple. Unlike Casualty Insurance (auto, fire or health insurance) which protects against FUTURE events, Title Insurance protects against losses arising from unknown or undisclosed defects in the PAST chain of title. Also, unlike Casualty Insurance premiums which are paid in recurring installments (hence a lapse in payment may mean a lapse or cancellation in coverage), a Title Insurance premium is a ONE-TIME FLAT FEE paid at the time of closing your real estate transaction. For this one-time premium, your Title Insurance policy remains in effect for as long as you retain your ownership interest in the property and do not sell it or engage in any real estate transactions that may affect the title to the property. Therefore, a policy of Title Insurance is like a PREPAID LEGAL AGREEMENT with an insurance company to PROVIDE LEGAL DEFENCE against your insured title, (depending, of course, on the type of policy coverage) and reimburse you financially for hidden defects in ownership rights.
In the NCS vs UTC Estates case, a simple Title Insurance policy would have revealed to NCS a long, long time ago, by way of title search, who the REAL OWNER of the property in question is and they would have signed their Lease Agreement with the real true owner. They would not be in this mess today and our country would not be held to ransom by powerful individuals who are out to extort money from NCS because of the loopholes in our land administration policies.
Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana, hope you are listening!!!
PETER ATSU TSIKATA
Real Estate & Mortgage Broker Los Angeles, California