It would have been better to fashion an authority to embrace the Deeds Registry and the Land Registry rather than have a Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority

Dear Editor,

 

By the publication of Ministerial Order No 17 of 2014, the Official Gazette of April 30, 2014 announced the coming into operation from that date of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority Act 2013. It is, to this writer at least, a most disappointing development that ignores the sustained argument for the timely separation of the commercial aspect, ie Companies Incorporation, Business Names Registration, Intellectual Property, Bills of Sale, etc, from the unrelated activities of the Deeds Registry encompassing mainly the Roman-Dutch Transports/Mortgages system and the registration of Deeds and Powers of Attorney.

Thanks to the intransigence and seeming lack of imagination on the part of the government, they continue to spurn the plain logic that such an authority might better be fashioned to embrace the Deeds Registry and the Land Registry, the two well-established entities that govern the two related systems of land-titles and land tenure, namely, the Roman-Dutch Transports and the Torrens Land Registration. But logic has little say in the current administration of our affairs. Because the Registrar of Deeds has been additionally saddled for so many years with the diverse operations of Companies Incorporation, Business Names Registration and Trade Marks, Patents and Designs and other commercial business and under the same roof, the government lacks the vision, courage and will to sever the old umbilical cord that imprisons these two unrelated business activities within the ambit of one and the same Registrar. It should be interesting to hear their attempted justification of this recent decision!

It would shock right-thinking citizens to learn that there is no official liaison between the current Land Registry and the Deeds Registry and that since the assumption of the latter Registrar nearly two years ago, the two officers have not met – a most untimely mockery of the motto, “One people, one nation…”

I wonder how many of us are aware that the two land systems operate simultaneously in the capital city of Georgetown. From the year 1968, the householders of South Ruimveldt and later North Ruimveldt have been issued with their Certificates of Registered Title under the Land Registration System and have been joined in such tenure by the allottees of land in that substantial proportion of eastern Georgetown known as Sophia. It may be little appreciated that the entire Ruimveldt has been declared a Registration Area since 1970 and that, accordingly, many of the holders of Transports in East and West Ruimveldt and including the Industrial Area are entitled to convert their currently held Transports into Registered Titles under the Land Registry Act. I doubt that any person at Deeds Registry, the Ministry of Legal Affairs or the Presidential Secretariat is conscious of this.

But then, we have, or rather there is this new Authority established by law and we must allow them some operational latitude. I believe their Board will soon meet to get down to their main business. When the Minister announced many months ago the proposed establishment of the Commercial Registry, I was not slow to describe it as something of a farce, since I well knew at that time that there was, and still is, no significant preparation in terms of identification of qualified and trained personnel and physical accommodation to cause me to alter my expressed view.

You would recall, Editor, from my earlier published letters that I had insisted upon the urgent evacuation of the commercial aspect from the premises of the Deeds Registry in order to provide the operational space urgently needed for repair and advancement of the Deeds Registry’s statutory obligations. That space programme is now necessarily on hold with no early relief in sight.

Recent developments have caused me to experience grave doubt that the invited/appointed members of the Authority, apart from the designated Chairman and the Registrar, received any proper background to their prospective assignment that would warn them of the enormity and extent of their task. A guided walk-through of the vault and facilities at the principal Deeds Registry premises with a few hundred homeless bound volumes and unbound files; the state of land registers which are an essential component of the statutory records of that department, and a visit, at least, to the Deeds Registry offices at New Amsterdam and Suddie, I consider absolutely essential preconditions to support acceptance of membership of the Authority. After all, these members are each deeply engaged in their principal business and would otherwise be unwittingly making and accepting a commitment not merely to guiding the Registries onto a proper operational course, but also redressing the multitude of operational defects of the past fifteen years or more. And then, I read the other day of the appointment of the Opadeyi consultancy which is expected to initiate the digitization of certain records relating to land titles. I trust the Authority has been made aware of this and can accommodate that exercise within the virtually unavailable operational space and supported by the limited Deeds Registry personnel of requisite quality who must be on hand to decipher or interpret some of the text.

As a prelude to their getting down to business, I have seen fit to address a letter of welcome with an accompanying dossier to the Chairperson of the Authority copied to the members of the Board as well as to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. That dossier comprises a copy of my letter of July 11, 2001 (thirteen years ago) recommending the establishment of the Registry of Commerce, copies of two of my letters to you earlier published in Stabroek News March 29, 2012 and Stabroek News February 10, 2013) and an internal memorandum of August 31, 2011 to the Deputy Registrar of Deeds and staff. It is my hope that after patient reading, they will have a fair idea that they are not embarking upon a happy holiday.

Rather, they will soon discover the magnitude of the challenge of redressing the administrative and technical failures of the relevant Ministry and the Deeds Registry itself over the past two decades. I have no option but to accord them my fervent wishes for their success and that their bravery is well rewarded.

Yours faithfully,
Leon O Rockcliffe

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