Deeds and Commercial Registry3113 03 Jan, 2013
Mr. Nadir: It is an honour for me to speak in support of this Bill which has, as the Hon. Attorney General said, taken almost ten years to reach to this stage. One could understand as we move from the period of 1992 when there was a very close and controlled economy and the state being in control of the commanding height of the economy, that new era which began on the 5th of October, 1992, that we had to do a lot of things. The Hon. Minister of Finance said, when he was piloting the previous Bill, that there were so many changes which had to be made - the plethora of changes, he said, in order for us to reach where we are today.
This PPP/C Government has not only said that the private sector is the engine of growth but has continuously moved, over and over again, to ensure that the economic infrastructure, the physical, the communication infrastructure, the legal infrastructure, and the necessary legal infrastructure, accommodate this exponential growth in businesses, as the Attorney General said. I listened keenly when he mentioned those numbers, doubling the amount of transactions handled by the Deeds Registry in the year 2000, from twenty thousand transactions to forty thousand transactions in 2011. I would hazard a good bet in this new year that if we go back forty years it may have taken perhaps in excess of fifty years to move from ten thousand transactions to twenty thousand transactions.
He also mentioned the issue of the archaic nature of the law and the structure of the Deeds Registry, 1919, he said, to today, ninety four years. Some of those vestiges still exist and we have to continually seek them out and make life easier for doing business legally and lawfully in our country. I only want to raise one of them. If we go to Bartica today and we look at the number of businesses that are registered legally, we will find that there are a fraction of the businesses that we physically will see on the ground. Why? Because a person doing business in Bartica for that person to get a shop licence that person has to travel to Suddie. There are some of these vestiges still to eliminate.
I want to come back because someone may stand up and say why it could not have been done earlier. Why it could not have been done was that there were some priorities. It was not easy to privatise the commanding heights of the economy. To privatise the commanding height of the economy, that was a priority. The liberalisation of exchange rates, foreign exchange rates, was a priority. The liberalisation of the finance sector... The Government today has not a hand in the finance sector, except a regulatory hand.
There was an enormous task in looking at the entire architecture. The failed Minister of Finance of the PNC era deliberation of the finance sector was a parallel window for foreign exchange, and still exchange rates were controlled. When the Hon. Members from the Opposition will snicker here at some of the significant changes the PPP/C administration brought to make life easier for business, for commerce and especially for a property owning democracy, those changes cannot be taken lightly. They have been significant and encouraged business to grow, and to grow the formal way. When they come into the formal sector, the revenue authority is another instance, they benefit from all the concessions.
Today, the banks will tell that the reason why people put themselves regular and formal within a business name, or within a company, is that when they finish doing business under their bottom house and storage under their mattress and they want to expand, because they children have grown and are now seeing things a different way, and they go to the banks they will be asked to show their financial statements. If they have been doing business, trading, at least they have to show their income tax returns, because that is the way the banks will be able to access the capacity of that entity of the persons to do business.
Whilst people can snicker about the changes which this PPP/C Government has brought... [Mr. Trotman: You were not there all the time.] I will tell you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, in the four terms plus that I have been in this House, I have supported every single provision that has come to this House to make life easy for doing business in Guyana. I may not have been in Government, but I have been in here since those changes. It has been improving, year after year. [Mr. Greenidge: Since when it is important in doing business in Guyana?] I have said, over and over again, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, that the Hon. Member Carl Greenidge had left Guyana so long that he came back physically, but his mind is still away. I said, as you know, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, less than five years ago, the Millennium Challenge Account, that company which receives US-government funding, had a $3.5 million programme here in Guyana in order to help improve the climate for doing business.
All of the targets that were set, and I think the Hon. Finance Minister was there when the programme closed, were met and the Millennium Challenge Account left Guyana with high expectations for this country and its business climate. Every year our perhaps better known attorney/accountant does the Doing Business Report on Guyana’s business climate. Every single year the optimism grows by the private sector. Look at them. Mr. Christopher Ram’s report, every year, paints a better and better picture by the private sector. In terms of all of these changes that have been made and those that are coming, Guyana will continue to improve its ranking in almost every single index where doing business is concerned. I would guarantee that.
There was a time when Guyana did so badly that it was not even on the radar for doing any business due to doing so badly. We came on the scene because of the importance which this Government has put on the private sector as the engine of growth. I thought the Hon. Member Basil Williams said we are still in love fest. What I am saying is that some people do not want to accept, on the other side, all of these positive changes. This particular one included have been redounding to the benefit of the Guyanese property owning people, the Guyanese people who have been doing business. I listened very carefully as the Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams spoke about his support for the Bill.
The Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams agreed in terms of the school of thought that says that there should be separation of the functions of the Commercial Registry from the Deeds Registry. He did urge that we look towards, faster rather than later, the implementation of a virtual registry as present in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
He also made a very passionate call for disclosure and being able to examine the records of companies. This is one of the first times in the House the Hon. Member Mr. Williams and I see eye to eye. While he used one example of while I sat as Minister of Labour and we were trying to look at the issue of unification of the Trade Union Movement we had to establish the legal bona fides of the entities that claim to represent the majority of unionised workers. I speak of the Guyana Trade Union Congress and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. I found that Guyana Trade Union Congress was established under the Company’s Act. When the Company’s Act was changed to the current one there was that carryover provision.
We searched the records inside and out for annual returns. The Hon. Member Rupert Roopnarine, when he was at the Critchlow Labour College, and there was a very close relation between the Guyana Trade Union Congress and the Critchlow Labour College, one of things we spoke about were the financial records. While I was looking at the issue of the Guyana Trade Union Congress I decided to go and find out who really are among the executives of the Guyana Trade Union Congress. I could not get the same records that the Hon. Member Basil Williams was looking for. I could not find for the Guyana Trade Union Congress. We still found names like the late Joseph Pollydore listed as General Secretary in the documents at the legal place where it supposed to be.
It is so important, because here you have people masquerading as directors of companies and claiming to represent thousands of people and the provision under which they have been incorporated. As the Hon. Member Basil Williams has said, ‘has been observed more in the breach’. I agree with him that what goes for the goose must go for the gander. It will only redound to the benefit of the entire country, all of us who want to do business. All of us must ensure that the old practices and the lethargy that may have existed, but he did not use those words, but he talked about the practices. He did not want to call a spade a spade, because he has to deal everyday with those persons. We know that he was referring to practices that could be improved upon. When this entity is established we want to ensure that we start off on a right footing.
I just have one other comment that the Hon. Member Mr. Williams made which is in respect to denigrating an appointment of the commission that is responsible for appointing the Registrar of Deeds. I have said to people that one could be in a provision for decades, but one has not shown himself. He mentioned the person who was vying did finally qualify him/herself as a lawyer. The person was there for twenty years. I do not know who he is talking about. They had 20 years experience.
There are many different things that you look for when you appoint people. You and many of us sit on a particular committee that has to deal with this same thing. Only less than six months ago we had to deal with such vexing questions. It is not easy. We know that uneasy is the head that wears that position. We will always have situations where some person feels that they have an entitlement. As far as I know, and I was quite impressed when the particular person showed up before the public accounts committee; I thought they acquainted themselves well.
Outside of that blemish I have a lot of consensus with the position which the Hon. Member Mr. Williams did undertake. He spoke also of the issue of the carrying over of staff. It is not a case where if he did not speak we would not have anything to say, it is a case where clearly while he read the bill will a cursory look, he did not look at the find detail. If we turn to clause 26(2) it speaks to the fact that persons who are going over from the old entity to the new one, such employment shall be deemed to have been uninterrupted and the period of service for such officer/employee with the Deeds Registry and every other period of service of... So, there is a provision in here. I am sure, with all the good attorneys that we have in our country, if these persons feel that they have been injured in the enjoyment of their lawful benefit as a worker they do not only have the Ministry of Labour to fall back on, but they have a competent set of attorneys in Guyana to take the Government to Court on. I feel very comforted in this particular provision.
I like also how the Attorney General had envisaged the composition of the governing board. It is a board that is not too heavy with fat, in terms of the numbers of people. We have seen many boards, some boards with 18 and 20 people. What the Attorney General has here are persons who are going to be integral in looking after the engine of growth in our country. While one might say that a nominee of the Housing and Water Ministry should have been replaced by a nominee from the Ministry of Tourism Industry and Commerce, for me why that is so important is because of the number of transports at this property owning democracy which we are encouraging by this PPP/C Government. The nominee of the private sector can clearly do the job of advocating for the private sector, changes that will benefit the private sector within the Deeds and the Commercial Registries.
I note that the Attorney General has a few minor changes. By and large this particular Bill will serve this economy and this society well and it will be a good thing that it be implemented with much dispatch. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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