Mining Cadastre & Licensing

8. Technical aspect of minerals rights cadastre

Cartographic and topographic issues: the geometry of the mineral rights

One of the essential activities of the Mineral Rights Cadastre is to fix and delimitate the position of mineral rights, which do not have visible physical boundaries. This requires the effective and knowledgeable use of cartographic and geodetic techniques. In many countries, the lack of adequate topographic map coverage has led to the inaccurate positioning of licenses and frequent conflicts, resulting in the insecure tenure of title holders. Currently available technology, including satellite images the GPS and GIS tools can help compensate for these deficiencies, but these techniques must be clearly applied to avoid positioning mistakes (for instance, by mixing projection systems).

The official document used for positioning the mineral rights in any country is the official cartographic map produced by the national Geographic Institute or Surveyor General. Consequently, the mineral rights cadastre should exclusively use the types of coordinates and the parameters (projection system, geoids, and coordinates) that have been used to produce that national map. In practical terms, this means that if the official maps are not compatible with GPS, the coordinates measured in the field with GPS devices should be transformed into the national map equivalents and vice versa.

One of the most innovative and efficient concepts introduced in the management of mineral rights during recent decades is the cadastral unit, a quadrangular polygon with constant (or pseudo-constant, depending on the type of projection used) dimensions that is referred to and has a fixed position within a system of coordinates. Before the implementation of the cadastral unit concept, many countries had no restrictions on the shape, geometry, and position of mineral rights, leading to a number of problems, including frequent overlaps between adjacent concessions and the presence of areas that were geometrically blocked for applications. As example, see the image below, the ancient cadastral maps of Zambia.

The evolution towards the modern cadastral unit began as soon as modern topographical maps were available making mandatory that borders of the surface areas of mineral licenses and mining rights to be polygonal, regular, and parallel to the coordinate system used in national maps (see below).

These conditions were soon expanded to include requirements that polygons should have minimum dimensions. The minimum size of a single mineral rights area would equal the dimensions of the cadastral unit and any mineral licenses should always be made up of a certain number of cadastral units. The final step in the evolution was the requirement that polygons cannot float and be placed anywhere. Rather, they must always be located coherently within a predefined and standard grid. The main advantages of the predefined cadastral grids are to avoid totally the overlapping and to optimize the geographical distribution of the available areas for granting.

Computerised cadastres

Information technology has helped to facilitate the development of cadastral operations and the management of mineral rights since the early 1990s. Through the adoption of computerised cadastres, mining countries have been able to reinforce their institutional capacity, shorten processing periods for applications and reduce errors, thus increasing the security of their titleholders’ tenure. These improvements have had the added benefit of improving transparency, minimising corruption, and eliminating discretion in the implementation of legal and regulatory frameworks.

Despite the value and capacities of computers, a cadastre gets its legitimacy from the legal and regulatory framework supported by paper documents ( In many countries, electronic documents and signatures have not yet legal validity.) and cadastral computer tools should be seen principally as management tools, serving to support administrative decisions, facilitate accurate access to the required cadastral information, and make it easier to screen applications and control deadlines, dates, and processes linked to cadastral procedures.

Required capacities

From a practical point of view, there are several important guidelines to be considered when designing and implementing a computerised cadastre system:

  • Computers on their own cannot provide solutions for all cadastral troubles. In fact, it is not possible to efficiently computerise a cadastre if there is not already a well-organised and systematic “paper” cadastre that includes codification, filing, and procedures, as shown in the picture below of the archive of the Peruvian cadastre.
  • Although it might be technically feasible, the computerised cadastre system should not be programmed to make decisions or take action on its own (for example annulling a license if the expiration date has passed without renewal). The system should be set up only to remind cadastral agents of actions that need to be taken.
  • The computerised cadastre operations and routines should be consistent with the law, regulations, and cadastral procedures.
  • The digital cadastral files should contain the same information as is registered in the paper cadastral documents.
  • There is no single commercial software that can be applied directly in any country without redesign or adaptation, it should therefore be designed and implemented to fit the particular legislative and regulatory framework of each individual country.

Technical and conceptual basis for the design of a computerised cadastre

The computerised cadastre system should be conceived as an independent and autonomous system. Nevertheless, it should be able to interchange data with other computerised systems of the State Administration, especially within the ministry responsible of mines.

The computerised system should serve as a user-friendly management tool, supporting the ministry’s decisions in the application and awarding of licences by automating the access to accurate information, screening applications, deadlines and dates, and routine procedures consistent with the law, and not taking decisions by themselves.

From a graphical point of view, the computerised cadastre must provide the correct positioning of the mining titles on the official cadastral maps and the management capacity of the administrative information associated with mineral rights and the storage of the historical records of the mining titles granted. Moreover, the computerised cadastre should not be limited to the standard GIS applications and should include the computerisation of all the procedures associated with the administration of the application and granting of mining titles. The computerised cadastre system should be able to:

  • Store, access and process all the information required for cadastral procedures.
  • Facilitate the management of the titles by automatic control of the duration and the delay of each step in the cadastral procedures as for instance the payment of fees, the duration of the permits and any other requirement provided in legislation and/or regulations.
  • Facilitate the accounting and management of the annual rental fees and application fees, including projections towards the future.
  • Edit and print cadastral documents and maps, including official forms, standard letters, graphic documents and data lists.
  • Block and to avoid the violation of the priority order or any other forbidden cadastral operation, prompting alert messages.
  • Facilitate the daily cadastral works by automatic remind messages.
  • Provide investors access to the updated cadastral data.
  • Guarantee the security of the information by systematic and automatic application of back-up routines and procedures.
  • Provide security tools to preserve the confidentiality, the stability and the inviolability of the information against human errors and unforeseen circumstances.
  • Facilitate the statistical analysis of the mining title data and to systematize the evolution of the cadastral situation, leading to the production of standard reports.
  • Automatically generate a historic file and audit trail of the information concerning cancelled or expired licenses and concessions.
  • Measure and report the aggregate surface occupied by valid existing licenses in each district, for each type of license, holder and mineral.

The transition to computerisation

The implementation of a computerised cadastre will involve a transition from standard paper files and analogue-based methodology to digital methodology. Even if the existing methodology is already well run on paper, there are several challenges that may arise during the transition to computerisation. Often, the system used for codification and filing on paper is not valid in a digital system, where each licence must have a single and unique identifier. For this reason, the introduction of a new codification system and the recoding of all documents may be required. Furthermore, the digital system cannot be introduced in a single day; the migration from one system to the other should be done gradually, in order to guarantee the existing mineral rights and status of registered applications, and minimise risks for titleholders and the administration.

Today to implement a new cadastral methodology without the support of a computer system would be inconceivable. But it must be repeated that computers by themselves cannot provide solutions for all cadastral problems; computerisation will provide the advantages listed above only if the legal and regulatory framework, the cadastral procedures, and the document management methodology are properly implemented.

In some countries, despite the availability of powerful and adequate computing tools, the lack of adequate cadastral regulations, cadastral procedures, institutional organisation, and cadastral methodology can negate any possible benefits of the computerization of cadastral management.

Online Cadastres

 Recently, some countries have implemented web portals where titleholders, applicants and public in general may access online to the cadastral information. Basically, two types of online access can be found:  

  • Systems where information is freely accessible. The visitors can check the stored information but cannot interact with the system; and
  • Portals where it is possible to interact with the system submitting applications and documents, without requiring the physical presence of the applicant in the cadastre office.

The implementation of type a) is relatively easy and the only precondition is the availability of a complete and updated cadastre database. The implementation of type b) is more complex and would require strict preconditions because the implementation of an online cadastre is not merely a technical issue and detailed preparation will be required in relation to:

  • The availability of sufficient computing capacity to avoid collapsing if many applicants access simultaneously to the system;
  • The capacity of the system to discriminate and prioritise applications, (in milliseconds) when two or more applications are being submitted nearly in the same time; and
  • The installation of required back-up routines on line to prevent information losses.

Recent international experience shows that technology by itself cannot provide the required solutions if organisation and specific procedures are not provided, for example:

  • Detailed procedures for online application (maximum duration of connection per application);
  • How to proceed with the registered application (data captured) if it is not accepted;
  • How to organise the presentation of documents after registration online, if the digital documents and signature have not legal validity;
  • How to organise the payments linked to the application online. In many countries it is still impossible to pay to the Administration by credit cards;
  • How to verify the real identity of the applicant online;
  • How to ensure the transparency and to guarantee online the respect to the application order (priority); and
  • How to prevent undesirable manoeuvres blocking the priority of an incomplete application in order to violate the priority order.

Any online system should be carefully evaluated in relation to the legal compatibility with the general legal system and the available technical infrastructure in each country, taking into consideration their potential implications and risks in licensing activities.

In general, the electronic submission of reports, documents or payments is not problematic and can be easily implemented. However, the electronic submission of applications, where the priority of the application is engaged and where a total transparency is required, may imply some limitations and potential problems.

Examples of online cadastres can be found in the Extractives Hub library and include:

Tanzania, Zambia, Peru, Liberia, Uganda , Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone

Prerequisites for computerisation

The implementation of a computerised cadastre cannot be envisaged merely as a computerisation issue, being strongly influenced by other parameters such as the cartographic bases, the legal framework, the institutional organisation and design of cadastral procedures.

International experience shows that success in computerisation, in addition to other parameters, depends on:

  • Essential and core principles established unambiguously in the minerals law, which determine criteria for granting, maintaining, renewing, or cancelling licenses.
  • Cadastral procedures based on appropriate cadastral regulations and institutional framework, building upon the principles and guidelines instituted in the minerals law.
  • A good paper cadastre based on good cadastral procedures (clear, simple, objective, direct, nondiscretionary, etc.).

Consequently, before any computerisation work, the following activities are recommended:

  • Amendment of the legal framework (if required).
  • Reorganisation of the Ministry, including the creation of the “Minerals Right Cadastre” (if required).
  • Development of a geodetic campaign to correct any current errors derived from the use of GPS for positioning of mineral rights (if required).
  • The cleaning-up of existing mineral rights backlog and conflicts, including the granting or refusal of pending applications (if required).
  • Re-codification and appropriate filing of the cadastral dossiers.
  • Storage of all the licensing information in digital (graphic and alphanumeric) databases, generating a digital inventory of all existing licenses and pending applications.
  • Compilation of an inventory of licensing conflicts or irregular situations, and potential plan for their resolution.
  • Design of new cadastral procedures.

These activities cannot be developed following a random order and they need to be implemented in a specific sequence, otherwise the objectives of mineral licensing reform cannot be guaranteed. This idealised sequence, detailed below, is summarised below:

Decentralised cadastres

Decentralisation of administration and state management is a global trend today, aimed at increasing the quality and speed of services provided to citizens throughout all areas of government. The mining sector is no exception and the decentralisation of the mining cadastre, particularly in large countries with remote mining areas, is necessary for effective management of the sector. Decentralised offices can provide updated information on mining areas and applications to titleholders, applicants, and other interested parties; receive and register applications for mineral rights, either by specific zone or for the whole country; and grant some types of licenses, normally only for small-scale mining or preliminary exploration.

Although the decentralised services can all be extremely useful for titleholders and applicants, enabling them to avoid lengthy and sometimes unaffordable trips to the capital city and allowing for the normalisation of many irregular mining activities, they can bring however risks of conflict, duplication, and overlapping unless certain rules are followed. Effective communication throughout the various parts of the cadastre requires a minimum technical infrastructure for data transfer and interaction between the central and decentralised offices. Without such infrastructure, cadastral decentralisation will not be successful.

Furthermore, the separation of roles between central and decentralised offices should be clearly delineated in order to avoid ambiguities, lack of coordination and inconsistencies in the cadastre activity. If both central and decentralised offices are receiving and registering applications and granting licenses without any interaction or clearance at the central office, the immediate result will be overlapping and conflicting licenses, leading to a sharp decrease in the security of tenure and an increase in risks for applicants and titleholders, making the country far less attractive to investors.

Another problem found when coordination between the central and decentralised offices is not effective is a lack of consistency in the interpretation and application of cadastral rules, especially in the decentralised offices, which may start to follow their own interpretations of legal texts—leading to significant disparities from one office to the next. This heterogeneity is not only an administrative irregularity, but also another increased risk factor for investors, because lack of homogeneous and uniform rules for the whole country may transmit the image of an unstable and ineffective minerals management system.

To avoid such problems, an effective organisational model should be adopted, including a clear definition (preferably fixed in the legal and regulatory framework) of the role, functions, and responsibilities of both central and decentralised offices, as well as the cadastral procedures to be applied in each. In addition, an effective system of technology and practices for data transfer and interaction between the central and decentralized offices should be implemented.

In general, the easiest and most effective model is based on the following division of work between the central and decentralised offices:

  • The central office is responsible for coordination (including control of the chronological order for new applications) of cadastral activity, with jurisdiction for processing applications and making decisions on grants over the whole country.
  • The decentralised offices are responsible only for receiving and registering applications for mineral rights, with each office responsible only for those applications that correspond exclusively to the geographic domain under its jurisdiction.

In countries that have not been able to implement such centralised coordination, serious problems for cadastral management appeared generating a sharp decrease in exploration investments derived from losses in security of tenure.