1st Edition

A Sociolegal Analysis of Formal Land Tenure Systems Learning from the Political, Legal and Institutional Struggles of Timor-Leste

By Bernardo Ribeiro de Almeida Copyright 2022
    306 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    306 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This sociolegal study focuses on the political, legal and institutional problems and dilemmas of regulating land tenure. By studying the development of the Timorese formal land tenure system, this book engages in the larger debate about the role of state systems in addressing and aggravating social problems such as insecurity, poverty, inequality, destruction of nature, and cultural and social estrangement.

    Land tenure issues in Timor-Leste are complex and deeply shaped by the nation’s history. Taking an insider’s perspective based on the author’s experience in Timorese state administration, and through the investigation of five analytical themes –political environment, lawmaking, legal framework, institutional framework, and social relationships and practices– this book studies the development of the Timorese formal land tenure system from independence in 2002 to 2018. It shows how political, legal, and administrative decisions on land administration are made, what and who influences them, which problems and dilemmas emerge, and how the formal system works in practice. The result is a portrait of a young nation grappling with the enormous task of creating a land tenure system that can address the needs of its citizens in the wake of centuries of socio-political tumult and huge fluctuations in resources. The book concludes by highlighting the importance of lawmaking and how abuses of power can be curbed by adequate administrative processes and laws. Finally, it argues that land administration is primarily a political matter. The political dimension of technical solutions must be considered if we aim to achieve fairer formal land tenure systems.

    The pertinence of the topics covered, the multi-disciplinary perspective, and the research methodology followed make this book appealing to a variety of readers, including international organizations, practitioners, academics and students engaged in land administration, post-colonial and -conflict issues, lawmaking, rule of law, public administration and issues of access and exclusion.

    Chapter 1 - Introduction


    Framework of analysis - Land Tenure System Analysis Model

    Research questions


    Ethical considerations

    Limitations of the research


    Chapter 2 – Formal land tenure systems


    Formal land tenure systems and other definitions

    The roles of land and formal land tenure systems

    The characteristics and roles of land

    Land tenure, formal land tenure systems, and the goals of the state

    Formal land tenure systems and state power

    The problems and dilemmas of formal land tenure systems

    Problems of formal land tenure systems

    Dilemmas of a formal land tenure system


    Chapter 3 – Land tenure systems throughout Timor-Leste’s history


    Geographic and social overview

    Historical background

    Formal land tenure systems in Timor-Leste

    The Portuguese formal land tenure system in Timor-Leste

    The Indonesian formal land tenure system in Timor-Leste

    The formal land tenure system during the UNTAET administration

    The formal Land tenure system since Independence


    Chapter 4- The political environment


    Political parties and land tenure

    FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor

    CNRT – National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction

    ‘Development’, high-modernism, infrastructure, and investment


    Private investment

    Post-authoritarianism and the authoritarian temptation

    Weak rule of law

    Indonesian legacy in land administration

    Corruption, rent-seeking, clientelism, patronage, and elite capture

    Natural resources’ windfall, oil dependency, and the resource curse

    Post-colonialism debates

    Post-conflict debates and potential for violence

    Resilience and prevalence of customary land tenure systems


    Chapter 5 – The making of land laws


    Making land-related laws in Timor-Leste

    Looking at the lawmaking process

    Legislative agenda

    Knowledge production for the lawmaking process


    Legal drafters

    Consultation and transparency mechanisms

    Drafting options and dilemmas

    Monitoring and evaluation



    Chapter 6 – Land tenure legislation in Timor-Leste


    Validity of pre-independence rights

    Legal recognition of customary land rights

    Long-term possession

    State land

    Definition of state land

    Public and Private Domain of the State

    Land rights of legal entities

    Processes for identifying land claims and addressing conflicting ones

    The Process established by Law 1/2003

    The Process established by Decree-Law 27/2011

    The Process established by the Land Law


    Land rights in the Timorese formal land tenure system

    Legal Mechanisms for Acquisition and Loss of Land Rights

    Transfers of land rights

    Adverse possession and legal protection of possessors



    Chapter 7 – Land Institutions


    Looking at institutions

    State institutions – The National Directorate of Land and Property and Cadastral Services (DNTPSC)

    The origins and influences of DNTPSC

    DNTPSC’s goals and tasks


    Internal structure


    DNTPSC’s clients

    External institutions

    Ita Nia Rai (INR) and National Cadastre System (SNC)

    International organizations and donors

    Timorese civil society organizations


    Chapter 8 – Social relationships, ideas, and practices around land tenure and the formal land tenure system


    Relevance of customary systems

    Characteristics of land rights

    Land tenure security

    Legal tenure security

    Perceived tenure security

    Land titling

    Land-related disputes and dispute-resolution mechanisms

    ‘Development’ and the right to expropriate land


    Chapter 9 – The layers in movement – the formal land tenure system and the Suai Supply Base


    Oil, politics and ‘development’

    The resource dispute in the Timor Sea

    The Tasi Mane Project and the SSB

    The Suai and the area of the SSB

    Land tenure, land tenure systems and ‘development’

    The informal approach of the Inter-Ministerial Team

    The 10-percent agreement with the ‘community of Kamenasa’

    The legislative approach

    The contractual approach

    The effects of land acquisition


    Chapter 10 - Conclusions


    Studying land tenure systems – an analytical framework

    What can we learn from Timor-Leste? Factors of success and failure of a formal land tenure system

    Land tenure and administrative processes, public administrations, and state officials

    Land tenure and the rule and role of law and lawmaking

    Land tenure and ideology

    The Timorese formal land tenure system – final remarks


    Bernardo Almeida is a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at the Van Vollenhoven Institute, who focuses on land, law, lawmaking and development.