Deeds and Commercial Registry4620 03 Jan, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: The authority, Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority Bill 2012, creates a semi-autonomous agency and I believe that the Hon. Attorney General ought to recognise the concomitant of that, safeguarding trade unionism representation and the like, but let me be more specific in relation to the Bill. There is a school of thought which has long been around that the Commercial Registry should be physically separated from the Deeds Registry. I see under the governing board there is a bifurcation between the Deeds Registry and the Commercial Registry. I hope that the Hon. Attorney General has that in mind that those two departments will have to be accommodated physically in separate spaces. When that is done, that will only be part of solving the problem.
There is need to have a modern Deeds Registry. Speaking for myself, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has long being ahead of us. In fact, it has an integrated system where lawyers could stay in their chambers and access the website of the registry. They could do searches from within their own chambers, and so. I do not know, from what I am seeing here, I hope we are not light years away from that. I hope that is the goal that the Hon. Member has in mind for our Deeds Registry. [Mr. Nandlall: I am only appointed last year, as you know.] Now, it is still a love fest, as you know. Do not go on the defensive. I am just making some observations.
In addition to that, the Minister has already spoken about the electronic approach to dealing with our record and that will take some work. The question I wish to highlight is that with this authority people could see working in it as a career goal and career path. We would hope that the old employment practices are not transferred to this new authority. I have a case that I have been asked by a member of the Guyana Bar Association to highlight, and it relates to a person who has had over twenty years work experience in the Deeds Registry, did a lot of training courses and then went and got herself qualified as a lawyer. She made an application, since 2010 to be appointed to the position of the Registrar of Deeds, of course, having all those years with the department. Lo and behold a graduate of 2007, who spent one year in the Attorney General’s Chamber and the other years at the Office of the President, was suddenly catapulted into that position. As you know, there was the whole question of morale. She has absolutely no experience in the Deeds Registry and that is a department in which some experience in it is a must. That is a burning issue, in terms of the approach to the Minister and the human resources in that department. We hope that the Minister will make strenuous efforts to address that situation because it is generally felt that the inexperience Registrar of Deeds is really at lost in that department.
Now, I would like to refer this honourable House to clause 19 (2) of the Bill and it reads that:
“The Authority is authorised under the general supervision and control of the Minister and the Minister responsible for finance, to retain the fees, charges, duties, taxes, or fines collected by it in the discharge of its functions as are necessary to fund the budget for the Authority and the remainder of the fees, charges, duties, taxes, or fines collected shall be paid into the consolidated fund.”
Let me tell the Member that this here is the first time one will find an expressed provision saying that moneys from the agencies, which would be Government’s agencies, ought to go to the Consolidated Fund. Now what is this designed to do? Is this designed to suggest that if the legislation is silent on this point that the money does not have to go to the Consolidated Fund? Is that what it is suggested? If something is started now and it is consistent, it certainly does not mean that National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) and the other companies, which are Government-owned, do not have to put their moneys into the Consolidated Fund. I am saying that I have seen legislations over the years came from that side and it is the first time we are actually seeing a semi-autonomous…, hoping it will spell out that it must go to the Consolidated Fund, as to suggest that if it is silent it would not end up there. That is one observation.
The second observation is in clause 5 (2) in which there is for the composition of the governing board the various elements that the Member raised earlier but there is a nominee of the Guyana Bar Association; there is a nominee of the Guyana Association of Legal Professionals and there is nothing... He has discriminated against a nominee from the Guyana Women’s Lawyers Association, I do not know how he arrived at that.
In addition to that clause 7, in which the employees are going to be transferred to the new authority from the public service and provision is made for the payment to them under the authority of pensions and other retirement benefits, we have wish to point out to the Minister that this was done in the case of the Bureau of Statistics and what has happened is that no provision was made for the pensions and gratuity for the members who were transferred to that semi-autonomous agency. It is still a burning issue right now. [Mr. Nandlall: No man.] All right, if you are saying “no”, I hope it is resolved since the last budget presentation. A word of warning is that you must ensure that you look after the pension and gratuity position of the members who would be going into this new authority.
The hallmark of the present Deeds Registry is one of inordinate delay in everything. I am happy that the Member has addressed this question, that this reorganisation on paper would reduce that inordinate delay. Time would tell.
Let us go to the commercial side of it. Basically, one has to look holistically at the legislation and the basic pillar for the Deeds Registry obviously would be the Company’s Act. Let me highlight certain things. Right now, one cannot go to the Company’s Registry and get any information whatever it is. One cannot get it; it is dysfunctional. I recall that the Chapter 89:01, that old Company’s Act, was reviewed. When it was reviewed it brought into being the 1991 Company’s Act and the underpinning of that 1991 Act really was the whole question of disclosure, because what was found in the Caribbean was that massive conglomerates were built up under the shelter of private companies and private companies did not have the duty to disclose anything but which they wish to disclose. Chapter 89:01 was reviewed. I remember Mr. Hoyte had appointed the review committee to look at the whole question... The Canadian Business Act was one of the main resources in addition to the CARICOM model Company’s Act, also the Barbados Act. The whole idea was to ensure that companies with a certain true put would have a duty of disclosing.
That 1991 Act generally was a welcomed Act. The first thing is that it has been observed in the breach. One goes to the Company’s Registry, the Registrar of Companies, whoever that person is, nothing is being done. One cannot go and find any information; companies are not submitting their annual reports and so it lends itself to skulduggery. When there are companies such as NICIL and other companies holding important places in this society and are custodians of governmental resources, the resources of the people, strict adherence to the requirements of reporting and disclosing are important. One should be able, any member of the public, to go to the Company’s Registry, look for NICIL and then find the relevant information that he or she wants in relation to the personnel, its structure, and so. Hon. Attorney General, you cannot transfer to this new authority that type of practice.
In that committee there were some luminaries on it - Mr. Yesu Persaud, Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick. It was chaired by Mr. Edgar Heyliger who was the Commissioner of Inland Revenue at the time. There were Mr. Pollard, Mr. David De Caires and Mr. Martin Stephenson. The Hon. Attorney General has left. I was about to inform him that I have the honour to be the secretary of that committee. When I wrote up the Company’s Act it left indelible, in my mind, that no longer companies would have been be able to hide the business from the people of Guyana, from the all-seen eyes of equity’s blue-eyed boy, but alas.
We will have to apply the principle in force and hard battles and we will have to lift the veil. I believe when that is done a lot of directors will be bawling in this country, so we will lift the veil, because the lack of reporting really lends itself... It could be concerted attempt to shield nefarious activities on that part and practices in some quarters. The duty of the Registrar of Companies, under this new authority, must be made very clear, equally, Registrar of Trade Unions. Those people do not understand the importance of their functions. Once there is a functioning Registrar, ensuring that the rules are observed, it would follow that the relevant bodies would also become more efficient and be more relevant in the way they approach their business practices.
With those few observations, and I have more, but I do not want to incur on Mrs. Lawrence’s rod, I would urge that the Hon. Attorney General and the authorities, that be, recognise some of these factors that I have raised and ensured that they eliminate them when they implement this authority.
Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker, with these few words the APNU, with those observations, would support the passage of this Bill. [Applause]
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