Bechara Karkafi, Director General of the Lebanese Cadaster: Proposal to unify property evaluation in all regions awaiting approval

- Surveying of all Lebanese territories to be completed within 3-4 years at most, if given the needed staff and budget

June - July 2011
Several public institutions deal with different inter-dependent issues and procedures related to real estate in Lebanon. The General Directorate of Real Estate (GDRE) falls at the center of these institutions and constitutes an obligatory passage to any real-estate-related operation.

Lately as the market's thirst grew for facts, figures and indicators on the real estate market performance, the Lebanese GDRE succeeded in providing a few of the rarely available indicators, notably the numbers and amounts of transactions, which are being published on a monthly basis in media, giving at least a basic idea on the market evolution.

One of the remarkable achievements of the Lebanese Cadaster is the COMAP project, the first phase of which is implemented already (and final phases still in process). This project computerized all data and revolutionized the old traditional way of accessing and producing fast and clear information about any property in Lebanon.

EKARUNA Magazine met Mr. Bechara Karkafi, Director General of the Lebanese GDRE, to have an idea on the work performed, the reforms and improvements being introduced to its services and the vision it has for the future, especially regarding the quality of the services it offers.

What is the GDRE and what does it do?

In brief, the General Directorate of Real Estate deals practically with everything related to real estate services. It doesn't do that alone eventually as some procedures are related to other institutions (Tanzim Moudouni, Municipalities, etc...). All procedures need however to reach the GDRE for final processing, as Karkafi explains. "In simpler terms, what the Tanzim Moudouni does for instance is the preliminary work after which things are processed and executed at the GDRE. Even as municipalities give out construction licenses, the process will have to pass through the GDRE as well" he adds.

Structurally speaking, the General Directorate is composed of two main departments: surveying and service centers (دوائر عقاريّة). The first is the technical branch (surveying, land modifications, merging, dissection, etc...) while the second deals more with legal aspects (registration, construction, insurance, identity of the estate, etc...) and they both complement each other finally according to Karkafi.

As for its position in the governmental structure, the GDRE is directly related to the Minister of Finance personally and has an independent budget.

Programs and projects

Besides the routine procedures and operations, the GDRE's role is focused on administrative development and continuous improvement of procedures to meet with the evolving market requirements.

Karkafi describes the advances witnessed at the Cadaster as "revolutionary" since it re-launched its operations as a Directorate in 1998 and then as a General Directorate in 2001. "Upgrading it into a General Directorate gave us more prerogatives and a wider margin of maneuvering. Eventually, we had some more flexibility in operating without having to refer to the Minister of Finance for every detail" said Karkafi.

Various projects and reform plans have been performed and are still in process, notably:

-          Cadaster Operations Modernization & Automation Project (COMAP) project: According to Karkafi, the first phase of this project is done and now all old and traditional handwritten data have been automated. The final phases still in process are mostly related to registration from distance, the linking of the surveying and the real estate service centers together and having all the information about every property available on the affidavit (إفادة عقاريّة).

-          Surveying improvements: Around 500 villages in Lebanon have been surveyed so far, said Karkafi. "But still the process is not complete. One of our objectives is to complete the surveying of all Lebanese territories. This however requires additional staff and budget. If the political crisis ends and a government gets established, we can acquire the needed resources and finalize the work in 3 to 4 years maximum" reveals Karkafi. On another hand, all information related to surveying are now computerized, many regulations were modified and new ones were introduced and implemented, new employees were hired, budgets increased and some programs and laws proposals are still on the way for approval and financing, Karkafi explained.

-          Real Estate Service Centers (الدوائر العقارية): "The work performed here was revolutionary" stated Karkafi. "The system was very traditional and old; everything was renovated, from procedures and paperwork to the buildings themselves. New service centers were opened in many regions as well to better serve citizens" he explained. Plans now, according to Karkafi are to cover all Lebanese territories and have service centers in all Muhafazat and districts.

Property evaluation: Project proposal waiting for approval

Karkafi acknowledges that procedures and paperwork are critical and hard to process, and not everybody knows what to do. That is causing the interference of agents who offer their services in exchange of commissions, leading therefore to some corruption in some cases, especially when it comes to property evaluation.

"We have a solution for this problem", Karkafi says. "People are not declaring the correct prices of their transactions or property values to run away from taxes. As a solution to this, we presented a project proposal to evaluate all properties in all regions in Lebanon and unify the evaluation process of properties instead of having multiple evaluations like the situation is currently" he added. This proposal, as Karkafi revealed, is still in process and needs the approval of the council of ministers.

"Once this is done, this issue will be solved and there will remain no room for corruption" Karkafi assures.

Can the GDRE become a regulatory body?

With reference to RERA in Dubai, which was established as a regulatory body for all real estate operations, the question was addressed...

"The GDRE cannot become a regulatory body. Unifying all real estate procedures under one umbrella would require a whole change in the mentality and structure of laws in Lebanon" says Karkafi.

Statistics& Transparency

Jones Lang LaSalle's Global Real Estate Transparency Index ranked Lebanon in 66th place among 81 countries and markets worldwide in 2010. So how is the GDRE attempting to further develop the facts, figures and indicators it publishes about real estate operations?

Karkafi reveals that technically speaking, the GDRE is capable of offering further advanced statistics when requested and it continuously works on developing and detailing the data it has as it issues its monthly reports. "We cannot deal however with rental yields for instance as these fall within the responsibilities of the Directorate of Revenues at the Ministry of Finance" says Karkafi.

"Whenever we receive any requests however about any data we have, we can provide them" he reiterates.

© Ekaruna 2011