5.4.1 File Management Quality
An effective file management process should support the completion and registration of lands transactions by providing Lands Officers with a standardized toolkit of resources to process files accurately and consistently. These resources should ensure that Lands Officers are completing files according to policy, retaining required documentation and registering the appropriate information into the Indian Lands Registry System (ILRS).
The audit included a review of a sample of 110 land transaction files (i.e. 26 leases, 25 permits, 19 designations, 15 BCR allotments and 25 transfers). The audit expected to observe that lands transactions are recorded accurately and that documentation is complete. The audit also expected to find that adequate operational practices are in place in order to ensure accuracy and quality, and that reporting on the status of land management transactions is communicated appropriately and in a timely manner.
To assist Land Officers in fulfilling their responsibilities, the department has developed a Land Management Manual. The Land Management Manual is a 655-page resource tool which has the basic technical information needed to manage resource land. The manual contains general information on reserve lands, specific procedures, and policy information. The audit found that regions use the Land Management Manual as a reference in order to complete lands transactions; however, it was noted that regions have started to diverge from the manual as much of the policy in the manual is out of date, and the manual blends policy with procedures. This has resulted in a general lack of clarity across the regions as to what documentation is required to be retained, as well as what constitutes a complete file. While the manual includes a few example checklists, some regions have created and implemented control checklists as a way to ensure accuracy and completeness in file transactions. These checklists identify all the required steps and documentation for each type of transaction, and typically require sign-off by the Lands Officer before the file is reviewed and approved by a Manager. Other regions have not yet implemented a control mechanism, and files are processed and approved without a means of ensuring that all aspects have been appropriately completed.
Based on a review of sample land transaction files, the audit found that generally, documentation is retained to evidence that all procedures were followed. Audit testing noted a few exceptions where reviews were not adequately evidenced or documents were not properly retained by regional staff (e.g. notifications, missing copy of Ministerial Order or Order in Council, BCRs, Affidavits, etc.). It was noted through sample files reviewed that in regions that have not yet implemented control mechanisms like checklists, it was more common for files to have missing documentation compared to regions with implemented control checklists.
Regions tend to have limited resources to train new Lands Officers. While the Land Management Manual is used as a base reference, there are few guidelines and procedures to help a Lands Officer through a file. Informal coaching and mentoring from more senior Lands Officers is how most Lands Officers learn what is required to complete a file. This has created variations in how land transactions are processed and documented within regions as well as between regions, as Lands Officers each have their own way of processing a file. In some regions Lands Officers use individually-created checklists, work plans and file-tracking methods, which are not standardized practices.
Regions have also begun to electronically file documents; however, no standardized indexing system has been created or implemented. This has resulted in ad hoc filing techniques specific to each region and in some cases to each Lands Officer, making document retrieval difficult as there are no naming conventions or lists of required documents in place. A standard indexing practice for electronic files would be essential to ensure the accessibility and retrieval of the key documents for a registration, as well as the working file documents captured in the Comprehensive Integrated Document Management system (CIDM). Examples of working file documents would include draft versions of instrument documents, completed checklists, correspondence, evidence of review and approval, etc.
Reporting on the status of active files varies among regions. Some regions require that Lands Officers maintain up-to-date Work in Progress (WIP) lists of all active files, which are reviewed as required by managers. Other regions do not track active files and limit reporting to the number of transactions registered in the region in a given period. This reporting varies among regions from a quarterly to ad hoc process.
Without effective and standardized file management practices or control checklists to ensure quality and support the completion and registration of lands transactions, there is increased risk of inaccurate or incorrect registrations.
4. The Assistant Deputy Minister of Lands and Economic Development should update the Land Management Manual and separate lands policy from procedures. Procedures should include updated control checklists for each key transaction, which can be used by the regions while processing files to ensure quality and completeness.
5. The Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Regional Operations should work with the Assistant Deputy Minister of Lands and Economic Development to develop and implement a standardized indexing practice for the filing of electronic documents in order to ensure accessibility of the files, as well as implement a standardized practice to track the status of active files.
5.4.2 Use of Information Systems
Effective information management systems should support the execution of business processes by improving their overall efficiency, promoting data consistency and integrity, and standardizing processing steps.
The Indian Land Registry System (ILRS) consists of documents related to and interests in reserve (and any surrendered) lands that are administered under the Indian Act. The audit found that use of the system is generally consistent from Region to Region. ILRS is generally accepted by users as a useful tool. ILRS documentation and training on registration of documents was provided to selected 'power users' as part of the devolution of ILRS to the regions.
NetLands is a web-enabled AANDC computer application used in the management of land transactions on reserve lands. It assists users to schedule activities, track revenues, documents, correspondence and significant events related to lands transactions. According to system documentation, NetLands is designed to help Department and First Nations staff manage land projects and associated land instrument details such as:
- terms and conditions of instruments (e.g. rent payments);
- monitoring (rent review, insurance, environment, breaches, disputes);
- people, organizations and companies associated with a land instrument; and,
- instruments which modify the original instrument.
NetLands allows a user to enter "bring forward" (BF) dates for events that should be addressed to meet the terms and conditions of the transaction, various policies and legal obligations.
The audit expected to find that NetLands is used to manage the processing of lands files, particularly those files that are more complex, and therefore more likely to remain in process over longer periods. The audit also expected to find that NetLands is used to provide project management functions to Land Managers and Lands Officers, such as tracking deadlines relevant to the processing of a land file prior to its completion and registration, and tracking expiry dates or renewal dates after a land transaction is completed and registered.
The audit found that although a 2010 AANDC Directive mandates the use of NetLands, the way the system is used was found to be inconsistent across regions included in the audit. Lands Officers use NetLands to varying degrees to monitor revenue-generating lands transactions (i.e. leases and permits). In some regions, for example, transactions (e.g. permits related to resources) were not entered in NetLands but were monitored in spreadsheet-based tools. The audit also found that NetLands use varied from officer to officer in the same region.
There is no direct connection to NetLands from the Indian Lands Registry System (ILRS), nor is there system-level integration that permits the direct transfer of data for a land instrument registered in ILRS to NetLands, where the terms of the instrument are monitored. Data related to an instrument entered in ILRS must be re-entered in NetLands, which can reduce efficiency of Land Officers. In one region, data entry in NetLands has been standardized through the use of an intake form; this checklist assists Lands Officers with data input requirements, naming conventions, and data quality by guiding a user through various fields in the system, based on the type of land instrument. The audit did not find similar procedural checklists for NetLands in other regions.
Data completeness was also noted as an issue; in some regions, only primary "head" leases are entered into NetLands, resulting in the system being unable to track sub-leases registered on the land. In its 2013 Report on Plans and Priorities, AANDC sets a performance target for the use of NetLands, and expects that 70% of new leases and permits registered in ILRS will be tracked in NetLands by March 2013 (in the 2012 Departmental Performance Report, the March 2013 target was 100%). The achievement of this target will be difficult to determine if data completeness issues remain.
The use of NetLands as a reporting tool appears to be inconsistent across the regions. Operational reports on transaction details, such as a report showing those instruments requiring rent review as of a given date, arrears reports, and the creation of letters requesting the filing of insurance information, are used to support the monitoring of land instruments. NetLands reports are not used to provide management information to LED on a regional or national level.
The audit found that NetLands provides limited project management capabilities, but did not find that the system was used to manage files in process prior to registration. Project management features available for monitoring key dates on instruments were not always used; some Lands Officers note that it was simpler to use other means, such as calendar reminders placed in their personal desktop office software, to monitor rent review and expiry dates.
Without information management systems which support the effective and efficient processing of land management transactions there is increased risk of inaccuracies, inefficiencies, and data integrity may be compromised.
6. The Assistant Deputy Minister of Lands and Economic Development should identify which user requirements now met by NetLands are critical and conduct a feasibility study to determine whether alternative systems or methods might better meet these requirements.