Why should the Deeds Registry and Commercial Registry − two entirely disparate activities − fall under the one authority?

Dear Editor,

May I take opportunity early in this new year to toast the health of your most worthy Stabroek News as our country’s leading information medium and to express my appreciation of its editorial mind that facilitates such varied and provocative spectrum of public comment in your letter pages.

I am sure you would also permit me to salute the dawn of the twenty-first year of the erudite Christopher Ram’s Business Page, since it is by that medium and Mr Ram’s kind courtesies that I was able in March 1996 to venture my first public spiel on the matters raised below.  The caption of that day was ‘The Deeds Registry – A Disaster Area,’ the epicentre of that disaster being now unquestionably situate at the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

Ministerial responsibility for this vital government department, The Deeds Registry, has for several decades rested upon the person appointed to be Attorney General, an official named in our Constitution as the Principal Legal Advisor to the Government.  He is expected to impart to the President and Cabinet a strict measure of ethical probity and legal discipline in all their endeavours and to bear ultimate responsibility for all matters of a legislative nature.  The Attorney General must present and defend before Parliament provision for the budget and legal expenses of the Supreme Court, the Magistracy and of all government departments that fall under the purview of the Ministry of Legal Affairs – his administrative portfolio.

It should not therefore be surprising that with such a legalistic burden, this person might have little time or energy for the demanding administrative duties of a Minister of Legal Affairs.

It is in his dual capacity that the incumbent Mr Anil Mohabir Nandlall piloted through the National Assembly on January 3, 2013, a Bill intituled ‘The Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority Bill 2012.’

Thanks to the lassitude or indifference of the opposition with their one-seat majority, this Bill was passed free of any serious comment except, of course from its presenter, who enjoyed a field-day of opportunistic rhetoric as he paraded its many virtues.  It is, however, my painful duty to expose his or his governing party’s venture as the unholy farce which it is.  Here are my reasons.

The national newspaper the Chronicle in its edition of January 5, 2013 celebrated the occasion with the misleading headline ‘Bill to set up Deeds and Commercial Registries etc.’

In fact, The Deeds Registry as a department of the government was not set up but actually established by Ordinance ever since 1st January, 1920.  Its functions, as its name suggests, covered by section thereof, the registration of all deeds like Powers of Attorney, Deeds of Trust, Notarial Bonds, Deeds Poll used mainly for change-of-name purposes and the registration of Deeds of Gift; in fact all documents whose registration might render them admissible in evidence in the court.

More significant, however, were the ample provisions for registration and recording of all matters and transactions affecting the legal title to land and specifically “the establishment of an efficient system of registration calculated to furnish security of title and an easy reference thereto.”  This was and remains the crux of the obligations of the Registrar of Deeds.

The existing law, now The Deeds Registry Act, is supported by the Deeds Registry Rules.

Twenty-four of these thirty Rules relate to transactions affecting interests in land.  The provisions of the recent legislation, in so far as they relate to the Deeds Registry, are calculated to replace The Deeds Registry Authority 1999 whose provisions had attracted considerable written critical comment by the present writer.

That now to be repealed Act which had remained dormant on our statute-books for more than thirteen years, was in no way calculated to redress the glaring inefficiencies afflicting the Deeds Registry. Nor does its successor, the present Bill.  And this is where the Commercial Registry comes into the fray.

It was seen fit over the years to place upon the Registrar of Deeds the additional burdens of Registrar of Joint Stock Companies, Business Names, Bills of Sale, Patents and Designs, Trade Marks and Trade Unions.

It must be appreciated that these activities form no part of the essential obligations of the Deeds Registry set out above.  The present position is that it is no longer possible for the Registrar of Deeds to discharge in an efficient manner the basic demanding obligations under the Deeds Registry Act particularly on account of the amplitude of land transactions and the registration and recording of them.

The most telling issue at the present is competition for operating space in the Registry office between the activities of Companies Incorporation/Business Names Registration/Intellectual Proper-ty involving Trade Marks Registration, all now envisaged under the title Commercial on the one hand, and those of the Deeds Registry proper.  And clearly the Commercial Registry must be removed in deference to the essential and more basic national institution of a land titles, conveyancing and registration agency.  There is no option.  The situation is a desperate one!

And this is where the farce is revealed.  Why should these two entirely disparate activities fall under the one authority?  It suggests an inability on the part of the Attorney General and Minister to separate the two departments in his mind and more significantly, it raises grave concern on my part that he has not taken the trouble to visit the facilities at the general office and vaults of the Deeds Registry and see and appreciate for himself the ridiculously cramped conditions that are a home for the files of Companies and Trade Marks in particular – flat-filed in bundles, a patent sign of trouble.

I have written ad nauseam on the impossible working conditions in this main vault which threaten the ability of the designated clerks to make annotations on the originals of transports and leases in relation to conveyances to be advertised in the Gazette and other conveyancing deeds affected by the twice-a-week courts. Property research is virtually impossible.

If the government were really thinking, which I truly doubt, the more logical course should be to have the Authority, if one be needed at all, embrace the Deeds Registry and The Land Registry under the same umbrella.

After all, these are the two departments governing the co-existing systems of titles to lands, relied upon by the public each day.  I must admit that Mr Nandlall had expressed upon his assumption of office, the desire to assume ministerial responsibility for the Land Registry.

This ambition had clearly foundered when about three months ago his ministerial photograph was unceremoniously removed from its place of exaltation at the Land Registry, Georgetown, which means that constitutionally, that department remains under the remit of the President.

May I state that the establishment of a Commercial Registry is no brilliant idea of the present administration.  I state (please forgive any immodesty) that it was the idea of the present writer propounded in my letter (copy enclosed) of 11th July, 2001 more than eleven years ago, addressed to the then Attorney General.  The issue was again raised in my letter to Mrs Udho of the Ministry of Tourism then charged with addressing the problems of the Deeds Registry.  Both completely ignored of course!

Again, the present culture, or lack thereof, did not impel the Attorney General to extend the courtesy of affording me a copy of the present Bill before or even after its publication.  I might then have taken the opportunity to repeat my earlier recommendation that consideration be given to the establishment of the Commercial Registry under the purview of the Minister of Trade, a far more logical home for the categories of commercial business under consideration.

And then, as if to convince us of the government’s indecision on the separation of the Commercial Registry out of the business the Deeds Registry, section 12 of the new Bill confirms the farce in the following enigmatic words:  “12 The Deeds Registry is divided into two registries.”

So thus, the recently appointed Registrar of Deeds, confronted by an unholy mess bequeathed by her predecessors of more than two decades, must expect no relief from the burden of a new Commercial Registry which will continue their negative impact on the ability of the Deeds Registry to rescue itself from its continuing predicament.

It remains with the Minister of Legal Affairs to demonstrate in clear terms and without delay the concrete plans in place for the transition that could establish the Commercial Registry as a completely independent entity and so defeat my reluctant view of the present legislative exercise in terms of the farce claimed by me above.

My punctilio is the salvation of The Deeds Registry pure and simple.  When a ship is in physical crisis, the compelling activity is the urgent repair to the hull as well as its crew.

No optimistic change of flag, change of name, nor ownership will operate to avert the impending disaster.

It is my intention dear Editor, to rely upon your gracious publication as I seek to address that continuing enigma, the administration of the Land Registry.

Yours faithfully,
Leon O Rockcliffe

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