Minister of Legal Affairs has blundered yet again in relation to Deeds Registry

Dear Editor,

I thought that I had earned some rest from public commentary on the affairs, plight and condition of the Deeds Registry.  Regrettably the goodly Minister of Legal Affairs would allow me no such respite – it is one legal administrative atrocity after another.

You have graciously published several letters by me on the Minister’s abortive attempts to bring into operation certain legislation entitled “The Deeds Registry Authority Act 1999”.  His first such attempt was by Order, a retroactive Order, published in the Gazette of 13th November, 2010 which he revoked upon publication of his second attempted Order in the Gazette of 19th March, 2011, this so-called Order being clearly defective on its face since it was based on non-existent legislation.

Well, the pitiful saga was continued on the afternoon of Thursday 29th September, 2011 where the Minister addressed the staff of the Deeds Registry and caused to be distributed to every member a copy of the Deeds Registry Authority Act 1999 and a letter above the signature of the Permanent Secretary of his Ministry in the following terms:-
(named employee)
Thru’ Deputy Registrar of Deeds
(ag)
Deeds Registry, Georgetown
Ministry of Legal Affairs
95 Carmichael Street
Georgetown

Dear (employee)

You are hereby notified that the Deeds Registry Authority Act 1999 will govern your employment if and when you consent to your transfer from the Public Service to the Authority established by the aforementioned Act.

In accordance therewith, the terms and conditions attaching to your employment shall be no less favourable and all benefits, including, leave, superannuation rights and benefits will continue to apply should you consent to the transfer as aforementioned.  On the other hand, should you not so consent, you will be eligible to be transferred to any other Department in the Public Service.

Kindly signify your acceptance of this offer of employment on or before 15th day of October, 2011.
With best wishes.
(signature)
Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Legal Affairs on
behalf of the Deeds Registry

You may note in passing that the address of that the office of the Deeds Registry, Georgetown is now stated to be “The Ministry of Legal Affairs, 95 Carmichael Street”.

It must be remembered here that in his second flawed attempt through the Order of 19th March, 2011, the Minister purported to appoint the 1st day of May, 2011 as the day on which the said Act would come into operation.

The content of the letter distributed was intended to address the provisions of section 7 of the Act dealing with the retention by the “Authority” of those staff members who would opt to remain with the Deeds Registry.  This would be clear from the copy of the Act which I now send to you.

It should be noted that all of this present activity on the Minister’s part was very clearly stipulated by Parliament to take place before the appointed day (1st May, 2011).  The Minister blithely ignores such Parliamentary dictates.  What he has also patently ignored is the requirement that the Government (whoever is its representative) the Registry (probably the new entity) with the approval of the Public Service Commission notify the officers/employees that the Registry wishes to retain their services etc.  Now nowhere in the Ministry’s letter is a reference made to the essential approval of the Public Service Commission,  the time-honoured constitutional employer of public servants on the fixed establishment  including most of the present employees of the Registry.

The section stipulates the agreement between the Registry and each (repeat) each employee on the terms and conditions of employment, not the “group therapy” approach unilaterally adopted by the Ministry with its ridiculous ultimatum.

This is a most important requirement since it affords each of the older employees to determine their expectation of a fair level of remuneration particularly in the light of the current administrative contradiction throughout the governmental sector where, at the Deeds Registry, junior employees of very recent engagement have been hired on contract resulting in these juniors in many cases attracting a salary, with immediate half-yearly gratuities, far exceeding the salaries of their supervisors of fourteen and eighteen years vintage.

I must acknowledge the contributions of Messrs. Christopher Ram who first brought to public notice this ridiculous phenomenon of neophyte contract-employees throughout the Public Service and Mr. Earl John for his diagrammatic presentation of its incidence in your Stabroek News Business Section earlier this year.

Yet, after all of the above, I harbour a more fundamental concern and observation of a legal/administrative quality.  The letter distributed to the officers/employers at the meeting refers to their future employee as “The Authority” – Well it is my view that the Act itself does not purport to establish such an institution.  It merely seeks to establish a body corporate named “The Deeds Registry”.  Nowhere in the Act is there established any ‘Authority’.  Such a term is nothing less than a spurious introduction of a non-existent entity.  The new employer would be ‘The Registry’ despite the provisions in the Interpretation at section 2(f).  The word “Deeds” was patently omitted from section 3 as a possible slip of the draughtsman’s pen.  The source of the employees’ salaries since May 1, 2011 would be a matter of conjecture.

The composition of the new Deeds Registry as at section 5 makes interesting reading and any attempt to give life to its provisions would be illusory in the absence of a substantive Registrar and Deputy Registrar.

Lastly, I should be quite happy to have the assurance that the letter addressed to the officers/employees and indeed the entire issue have been shared with the Trade Union which is reputed to be the bargaining agent of employees of the Registry.  The basic tenets of modern industrial relations dictate that the actions contemplated by the letters distributed which would affect the terms of employment of persons within the bargaining unit must be brought to the attention of their Trade Union.

I afford no advice to the employees of the Registry individually or collectively regarding their response to the letter distributed.  They must make their own determination. I have for that reason postponed my going into public print to a date after the “acceptance” date of 15th October, 2011.  For myself, were I the recipient of such communication I might tend to take account of all of the irregularities on the part of the Ministry attending its issue and ignore it completely.

Yours faithfully,
Leon O. Rockcliffe
Attorney-at-Law

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