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JUSTICE SAI SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON THE DIGITAL ADDRESS SYSTEM

So we have this virtual grid mapping/address thing – #GhanaPostGPS – going on. People are asking questions. For example, how does the virtual address translate into real house/property numbers, so that one could, even without a smart phone, locate a property using the address? Others, too, have made it their business to be registering other people’s property in their names.

I’ve just read a review of the #GhanaPostGPS by someone who says he’s an expert. It was so horrible, I almost puked.

Sometimes, the way we even communicate can affect implementation. What we keep hearing is “EVERYONE would have an address”; and I’m wondering what that means. Let’s go back to the problem we set out to solve in the first place. As far as I know, the problem we’ve always had is that properties (not human beings) do not have standard addresses. If this is true, then, I believe this whole venture is not really about human beings having addresses (even though it is human beings who would live at and use these addresses). Now, let’s see how this tiny seemingly insignificant (mis)communication is affecting the project:

We have a software which confronts you with the message “Get Address.” It, then, asks you to supply your name and other personal particulars. The app uses your location (not your personal details) to generate an address, after which it tells you to “kindly register this address … your registered address can be used as your address for all official documents.” When you add this to the message “everyone would have an address”, you’d begin to understand why people (including the homeless, nomads, etc.) are in a rush to register any property in sight. They probably think they, the persons (rather than the property), are the ones getting the address.

Point is, why do I have enter my name and phone number in order to get the address of a property? Is it not more appropriate to get a well-trained team (rather than random people) which would go round to connect the physical properties to the virtual grids? That way, we can vouch for the integrity of the address registration. That way, too, we can avoid the situation where a large property would have 2 or more addresses.

From the legal perspective, one may ask if there’s any law backing this enterprise at all. For example, what are the consequences of someone registering another’s property with fake particulars? What’s the evidential value of these addresses? How does it play out in land title issues? What’s the guarantee that the telephone numbers and other particulars they key into this app won’t land in the hands of some marketing folks who would be bombarding them with adverts every Sunday dawn? Here, it’s not enough to say there are remedies under the general data protection laws (knowing how impossible it is to get real legal remedies in this town). Progressive societies focus more on preventing the breach rather than curing it.

Finally, we have all these Ghana Institute of Surveyors, Licensed Surveyors Association of Ghana, the Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors of Ghana, the Ghana Institute of Architects and whatnots, who have earned, are earning and would continue to earn a living by or through physical property mapping/address processes. They won’t even dignify us with a comment on this project. But the bigger question, perhaps, is how much stakeholder consultation even went into the project?

Da yie!

Justice Sai (Former Teaching Assistant at Harvard School of Law

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