The situation at the Deeds Registry is becoming more desperate with each passing day

Dear Editor,

In early February, 2010, eighteen months ago, there was delivered to the office of the Minister of Legal Affairs a letter by Mr Leon Rockcliffe, an Attorney-at-Law seeking the Minister’s attention to many of the deficiencies in the operations of the Deeds Registry, a government department under that Minster’s charge.  That letter has never been the subject of even a courteous acknowledgement.

In mid July, 2010, the Secretary of the Guyana Bar Association wrote to the said Minister seeking a meeting with him and urging that serious attention be paid to the content of the letter by Mr Rockcliffe, an attorney of considerable experience in the business of the Deeds Registry.

Our letter attracted the following reply which we quote for public information –

“Secretary, Guyana Bar Association, 39, Brickdam, Stabroek, Georgetown.

“Dear Madam,

“Your letter addressed to the Hon. Attorney General and Minster of Legal Affairs, dated 13th inst. was received on the 16th.

“I am directed to inform you that in due course, consideration will be given to the contents therein.  In keeping with the established norms it would be more helpful if your Association would be inclined to itemise in detail the problems and the possible solutions for a meaningful improvement of the Deeds Registry, the incantations of C’de Rockcliffe notwithstanding.  You can rest assured that the appropriate vigilance has been given to its conditions, integrity and productivity since his resumption of office.

“Yours sincerely,
[Sgnd] Dr. S. Doodnauth

Personal Assistant to the Honourable

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs”

The Council of our Association was disturbed that such gormless indifference could be supported by public funds.

Notwithstanding the laidback approach of the ministry to what is an increasingly serious problem, Mr Rockcliffe proceeded to publish  a series of letters on specific aspects of the problems of the department culminating with the Minister’s two abortive attempts to bring into operation a dubious bit of legislation entitled ‘The Deeds Registry Authority Act 1999.’  Those letters were kindly published in your columns but excited no reaction from the Minister or ministry. The items of concern raised (aside from criticisms of the new Deeds Registry Authority Act) included:

(1)  a recommendation that the   activities  of the  Commercial  Registry

(Intellectual Property, Trade Marks, Companies records, Business Names Registrations) be removed to another location and authority in order to enable the Registrar of Deeds to perform the primary statutory functions under the Deeds Registry Act;

(2)  the deterioration of the condition of the land registers and encumbrance registers, virtually disabling the process of recovery of overdue general rates by execution sale;

(3)  the decline in academic and intellectual quality of Registry staff, and lack of technical on-the-job training;

(4)  the failure of the Registrar to send written notices to practitioners on the status of conveyances filed but not processed for various reasons;

(5)  the abysmal state of the archives at D’Urban Backlands;

(6)  the practical inability of the Registry to perform the functions of an autonomous body contemplated by the new Act; and

(7)  the vacancy in the Office of Registrar and Deputy Registrar, both functions now being undertaken by a senior registry officer acting as Deputy Registrar.

Accordingly, our Association on July 13, 2011, marked the anniversary of our first letter, again seeking urgent meeting with the Minister on the issue of the Deeds Registry.  This reply from the Minister’s office we quote:

“Secretary, Guyana Bar Association, 39, Brickdam, Stabroek, Georgetown.

“Dear Sir,

“I am directed by the Hon. Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 13th inst.  The contents have been noted by him and, until such time as you and your associates deem it professionally appropriate to address issues to him prior to publication in the press, he will not be inclined to meet with you.  In fact, the views expressed in the Stabroek News, by one Leon Rockcliffe, seemingly endorsed by the Guyana Bar Association, represent the nadir of disrespect for his ministerial office and, unless a public apology is similarly expressed, your solicitation will remain unaddressed.

“Yours sincerely,
[Sgd] Dr. Shyam Doodnauth

Personal Assistant to the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs”

The lack of concern by the Ministers and his subjugation of the duties of his office to affected personal pride are evident from the tenor of the two letters quoted. These are compounded by the fact that he has not deigned to lend his signature to any type of comment or reply.

That is bad enough.

What is worse is that nothing has been done so far to exercise his constitutional duties by taking effective steps to improve the function of so important a public institution as the Deeds Registry.

Meanwhile, the situation at the Deeds Registry itself becomes more desperate with each passing day.  In the absence of a Registrar of Deeds either substantive or acting, the acting Deputy Registrar has been saddled since May of this year with the unconscionable burden of management and operation of the Deeds Registry in Georgetown, that in New Amsterdam, a sub-Registry at Suddie, and the sitting of three Transport Courts weekly, all this with a woefully unqualified support staff and no further assistance.

Any member of the public whose business necessitates their visit to the Deeds Registry can attest to the sloth of the Registry system. The unfortunates who must appear in the Registry to update business registration certificates, or inquire about transports, or renew bills of sale or file documents can be found on any given day waiting for hours to process their transactions. We are all affected by this enormous, growing problem.

It is election season. Rhetoric and vitriol abound. Speeches ring out and billboards are posted. Perhaps the powers that be can find time between politicking to do some real work and address some real problems. Until that happy day, the situation at the Registry continues to deteriorate.

Yours faithfully,
Timothy Jonas
Prabha Persaud
Ronald Burch-Smith
Mohamed Khan
Guyana Bar Association

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