Land title system remains in dire state but still no action

Dear Editor,

Your kindly publication of my most recent letter on the subject of Land Registration and its present predicament seems to have excited little interest, comment or action in the expected spheres.  In the national interest, however, I dare not let the matter rest.

I was careful to point out that by what I hope was some administrative lapse, the business of Land Registration has not been entrusted since November, 2006 to any appointed minister of the government, with the constitutional result that it remains under the immediate responsibility of the President.  I am not sure if my last letter was brought to his attention by any of his trusted officials, but I am confident that the content of this letter will move you to address directly to the President a copy in accordance with the ethical traditions of the Stabroek News letter pages.

The heads of state of the Caribbean Community and at least those of Jamaica, Trinidad and Belize where the land registration system flourishes, would be perplexed to learn that our President who so distinguishes himself in that forum could be guilty of presiding over the virtual death of so essential a land title system in his own country.  A system whose integrity he must recognize as an essential component of the social order and financial well-being of the nation he heads.

It is not my intention to harp upon the illegality of the appointment of the incumbent Registrar of Lands.  That was six long and regrettable years ago.  What I dwell upon is the lamentable fact that this Registrar should be permitted, without administrative oversight, discipline, control, guidance or legal advice to pursue a course that is stultifying the expansion of the system and imposing the long delays that now characterize the delivery of product and frustrate the public who are entrapped in the system.

So then, I must though reluctantly, venture into the blame-game and identify some individuals who, by their narrow-mindedness, lack of sensitivity and plain indifference make their unsalutary contribution to the present situation.

The Presidential Secretariat must be first in the line of fire since it is there that responsibility lies for strengthening the system and ensuring its survival by the appointment of deputy registrars and assistant registrars, training of staff and the day-to-day operational efficiency of the land registry.  Does it not concern them that for the whole county of Berbice there is one solitary clerk of very junior status and experience and none in the county of Essequibo.  Or that the incumbent Registrar is the only official qualified to certify any document issued by the registry in any county? It is my understanding that on a particular day of the week the most junior clerk from the Principal Registry at Georgetown travels to Parika with the entire collection of land registers for the county of Essequibo.  Could one imagine a more dangerous exposure of essential records to sabotage, loss or destruction?  But it does happen!

I do no longer lay blame upon the Registrar herself, she is the product of her employers who could not be deaf to the numerous complaints of operational faults that must have come to their ears.

I have earlier made accusatory reference to our lawyers and will continue to do so.  “There are at least three legal firms, all headed by senior counsel, who process mortgages from the financial institutions and who must accordingly be expected to be the principal watchmen over both the Transports and Land Registration systems that produce and are responsible for the accuracy of the land titles uttered by mortgagors as collateral for their mortgage-loans.  Regrettably these gentle folk are apparently content to abide the patent deterioration of both systems, making no noises nor written representations but temporarily enjoy their remuneration while the very substratum of their business suffers rapid deterioration.”

One hears from time to time a few rumblings from that enigmatic community, namely the lawyers in the county of Berbice. The few in Essequibo are a weakened community and while they share the blame they do enjoy my deepest sympathy.  It is sad indeed!

Surely it is time that the financial institutions take up the cudgel themselves if they do intend to support their recent protestations of joining the ‘housing drive’, Ought they not to demonstrate becoming concern for the fortunes and fate of the land-title systems that underscore a significant degree of their financial investments?

It is my hope that the senior members of the legal community as well as the bankers they serve should see it as their duty to abandon their comfortable perches and pay an on-site visit to the Principal Land Registry as well as the Deeds Registry for an essential appreciation of the predicament in which the land-titles administration is now mired.

I am aware that the recently instituted officers and committee of the Guyana Bar Association are marshalling their forces to address the problems attending both Deeds and Land Registries.  There is much to be done but time is not on their side.

Finally, there is the Ministry of Housing whose young minister lacks no energy in trumpeting the plans and ambitions for the expansion of that industry particularly in relation to lower-income schemes.

I do not yet attribute blame to him owing to the vastness of his portfolio and relative recency of his appointment.  Rather I should adjure him and the Secretary of the Central Housing and Planning Authority to develop a serious interest in the operations of the Land Registry since I do expect that many of the new areas for Government Housing Schemes will fall under the land registration system.

I end on a hopeful note on what is, I must confess, a bleak situation.  It is that the parties referred to above will recognize the need for the serious and urgent response that alone would operate to ensure the survival and prosperity, of the Torrens Land Registration System in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
Leon O. Rockcliffe

Editor’s note: A copy of this letter will be sent to the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon for any comment he may wish to make.

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