dilapidated building

Lahore Development Authority – Wasted opportunity

You want some land?

Lahore Development Authority (LDA) handles Real-Estate transactions in Lahore. Real-Estate is interesting business. You look at a piece of Earth and say “I’ll take it”, while people look at you weird. However, if there is a transactional authority that decides who owns how much land, then those words seem less out of place (equally pretentious though). People like land, because they build stuff on it, it accrues value and sells for a profit, or you can just live in it.

Who decides who owns how much?

In order to keep things fair and prevent the “if it fits, I sits” rule from people losing their homes. These transactions are conducted under the supervision of a governing body. That is the role of Lahore Development Authority (LDA), as well as numerous other governing bodies with similar roles across the country. LDA used to exist in subdivisions, but in order to cull the security risks with remote operations, like illegal takeovers and just bribing someone to make a deal under the table. In order to ensure an aseptic transaction, said development authorities have a standardized criteria for all transacting parties.

What’s an LDA?

Sounds like a strong hallucinogenic, right? Narcotics both waste your time and prevent you from accomplishing anything and give you visions of things that might never come true. In that, they’re quite similar.

The problem we are discussing today is Lahore Development Authority’s inability to keep up with the times or even efficiently execute their own criteria. Think of it as WWE. There are rules, but the entire concept is that one person is constantly breaking the rules (the average customer) while the other is trying to stay within them (the employees), until someone with authority (literally anyone above Assistant Director) will pretty much do whatever they please, with the outward appearance of a real business while actually being a total sham.

Pictured: An average real-estate transaction in Lahore

In the time I spent pacing the LDA building to officiate the sale of a house (to a seller who is the director of a development authority in a different city), I had several discussions on various issues with regulars of LDA; people doomed to handling their real-estate affairs perpetually. They had the same advice for new faces “Inn se Allah bachaye”. This article is advised by my personal experience reinforced by the experience of people I met during my time there.

My father owned a house in Allama Iqbal Town, Lahore for nearly 4 decades. In June 2014, he suffered from a stroke and another one in December 2014. At the time, we decided to liquidate that property (a decision I will regret for multiple reasons, more of which we’ll cover in the future).

Despite finding a buyer as quickly as one would sand in the Sahara, the entire process still took nearly 6 months to complete, which I am told is near-impossible turnover at the LDA. In these 6 months, I saw a lot of the same faces running through the same hoops as I. The first of us to get free of LDA’s curse treated other regulars to tea in their cafeteria. Not nearly enough tea was consumed.

What does the Lahore Development Authority look like?

The LDA compound located in Johar Town, Lahore is a gorgeous facade, with a typical Pakistani government interior. One wonders if they hire a designer to pull that off or is the culture so ubiquitous that you can recognize it anywhere within the country. Inside the compound are numerous sections and buildings dealing with various operations as well as two banks and an ATM.

There is also a small hall where public affairs are conducted and two separate wings covering works, WASA, planning, et al. Operations open at 9 am, while people are kicked out by 1:30 pm. The building is a ghost town by 3:00 pm. Apparently government offices think 4 hours 30 minutes of work is ample.

dilapidated building
Apparently LDA doesn’t have an copyright free image for the public to use, so here’s a stock image of a random rundown building. It’s about the same experience. Just add some government employees

The employees are predominantly lugubrious, frequently late (sometimes upwards of two hours) or absent altogether. The place was a sea of humanity (applicants/buyers/sellers/etc.), all waiting for various things from signatures, forms, to just needing some answers. The hall had maybe 3 regular sized Air Conditioners cooling hundreds of people in a small space in a Lahore summer. You become envious of chicken farms at that point.

One-Window Operation *snicker sarcastically*

One-Window implies that your entire process can be handled at a single counter. However, they have yet to resolve their conflict with the dictionary on what that is supposed to mean, because clearly they have other applications for that phrase. They make you fill out some forms and then you cease to exist for that individual, they will not be part of this process anymore. If you are lucky enough to know where to go, then you’ve got yourself covered, otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time asking strangers about what to do next. If you manage to get a hold of someone, know that it is their job description to be uncooperative and will operate with the sole purpose of getting rid of you.

How does it work?

The first step behind selling any property is that you need to have your papers in order. This involves a process that is necessitated by the LDA, but, does not take place in LDA’s offices. You have to fill out a few forms and pay a fee at the State Bank (at the other end of the city) just to put your house on the market. Once you have a buyer, they need to pay a hefty fee before transacting. With all the documents (original blueprints, papers, fees, bills, signed affidavits all approved by a government official), you have what is called a transfer set. LDA isn’t involved in this transaction yet, this is just you on your own.

When this is ready, the transfer is taken to the LDA. In theory, they’re supposed to verify it, but they let you take care of that. You take it between departments, confirm with their records and get an officer to verify and sign off on authenticity. I made it sound too simple, let me elaborate. 

You take it to a department that you can’t find, sift through records that stop existing past a certain date (and if you fall in that hole, you’re spending an additional 3 months just finding out where to get the records verified then), wait until you stumble across an officer and then wait until he has enough time to do his job.

Real-Estate agents have a network and backdoor channels they use to expedite these processes – not always within the confines of law – so anytime you think you’re making progress, your slot will suddenly appear in someone else’s papers.

LDA takes anywhere between 1 week and 1 month to verify that the payments have actually been made (apparently a bank’s official receipt is not evidence enough).

Once you are over that hurdle, you are going to have to get your latest map verified; there’s another fee there which you can pay at LDA’s NBP branch. It is so close to public affairs, that if they had windows, you could reach into it without leaving the building. BUT, they still need to verify that payment, so that is another week to month gone. Even real-estate agents with all their connections have to wait at least 2 days, sometimes even more.

The transfer process

Once that is cleared, you have to create what they refer to as a “transfer set”, which is the folder you get where all your documents attested, approved and verified in triplicate reside (they remind you of Vogons from HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). This transfer set, along with buyer and seller meet with an identifying officer (IO) who will sign off on the process. They will have their photographs taken, money will change hands and everyone can be on their merry way. In theory.

Punctuality, or even attendance is not their calling. So the officer will 100% not be available on the day you visit, without a replacement or even notification on when he’ll be back. You go there every day until you find him, at which time you are likely to find him serving people using the aforementioned backdoor channels.

Pictured: A completely legitimate transaction

If you want to get an earlier date, you can make an additional payment (about twice what you will have already paid by now). They will take their sweet time verifying that payment too. However, your wait time does get significantly shortened. You get called within a few days. Upon getting a date, an IO will ask both parties if they actually want to go through with process and ensures the transaction isn’t happening under any duress.

F*** this shit

In case you’re wondering, that was “FUCK THIS SHIT’, but censored. That way people pretend to cuss without actually being called a cusser.

In my transaction, when the date for verification finally came, an exceptionally rude IO met with us (we later found that it was his last day on the job). Now I must interject, my father’s ailment was not kept secret from anyone at any stage. Still, without any modification to his approach, the IO asked my father, suffering from speech aphasia if he wanted to sell the house. He did, he knew what was happening, but he couldn’t understand questions unless posed very specifically. 

Since my father had problems speaking and wasn’t steady enough to write, the identifying officer said “I don’t think he’s in his senses” and marked the document with that professional analysis and closed the situation on us. We tried to convince him that other approaches be tried (like identifying through a photograph), but he did not entertain us for more than 10 minutes. We went all over the building trying to convince someone higher up to give him some time to answer. The higher ups we met (along with the buyer who was also trying to help with us) asked the officer to reconsider the options and ask again, however, the process relies entirely on the IO and he only asked one more time and made his finding official and then left. His rationale was, if it turns out that Papa was indeed unaware of what was going on, he needed to protect himself against any potential litigation.

We offered to sign bonds saying that no one else is legally entitled to make a claim and that we forego our right on this piece of land. He was determined not to let this happen so rationale was wasted on that ignorant fuck face. Saari mehnat zaya kar di. The biggest disappointment was that my elderly parents were part of this entire ordeal in a Lahore July. 

All this time and energy wasted. Given how critical this step was, everyone felt that this should have been the first query they conducted, not the last. We could have changed approaches.

Start over

Man I miss this show. Back to the bitching…

Now, I had to get power of attorney to sell the property on my father’s behalf and ALL that yo-yo’ing had to be done again, under my name this time. I found a compassionate higher up at LDA who showed us a legal loophole that saved us from spending all that money over again, (call it an amendment to the original set), but it would have been the same thing all over again for the general public.

The power of attorney is a process that takes between 2–5 weeks, that the LDA themselves verify. Completely agitated by these antics, I went the underhanded route. I bribed people to speed up the process. Find us an IO who is not a braindead psychopath and to ensure that this process finally goes through.

Identifying problem areas

Despite my major gripe being that someone needs to go through so much distress just to sell what they themselves own. The department and its underlying processes are outdated and extremely flawed. It’s as if they have both feet firmly planted in an incompetent version of the 70’s.

For starters, they should carry out verification before anything else is processed, this would help save everyone’s time and money. Additionally, perhaps create and deploy a better system for payment verification, one that does not haemorrhage time. The office hours are ridiculously obsolete, they should observe the 9–5 work week and ensure that everyone actually shows up.

One-Window Operation, LDA could not be further away from its actual description if it was in orbit. The operations are neither one-window, nor is a word as exalted as “operation” applicable here. Perhaps “multi-window, multi-tiered slapstick routine” is a more accurate description of the goings on of that place.

I have seen first-hand how demonstrably easy it is to bypass this system. There is little to no accountability, there is no standard operating procedure and no system of sequence or procedure, just chaos.

People with connections however, have the easiest time. They find someone high to take care of the whole thing in a matter of days! Even bribing only reduced the turnover, it didn’t change much. In these accelerated scenarios, numerous steps developed to prevent tampering are skipped and the next honest person gets to go through even longer routines. Yet, this happens.

To boot, this process is so reliant on paper, that you wonder why they even have computers in their building to begin with, they seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. This is all limited to two honest people trying to conduct a legitimate transaction. There were people who had paid fortunes for plots in some new schemes but were still awaiting LDA’s allotment.

LDA was put in charge of making your transactions secure and efficient. Realistically, you are promised neither security nor speed. In fact, numerous facets of this system hinges on individuals’ judgements. How do you trust someone to take care of your real-estate, when you can’t even trust them to show up on time and finish an honest day’s work?

I hope future governments improve this process in a way that actually helps people and doesn’t just have the outward appearances of a functioning organization.

I am Adi Abdurab and I flip the LDA Building the middle-finger every time I drive past it.

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