After much consideration from both sides of the House, the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority Bill (Amendment) Bill 2017 was passed in the National Assembly on Thursday.
Moving the second reading of the Bill was Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams.
The Parliamentarian explained that the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority is a corporate body that was established to promote the efficient operation of the Deeds Registry and the Commercial Registry.
Williams noted that the Authority performs a critical service that is essential to Guyana and contributes significantly to the generation of revenue for the country. He said that the Authority has the power to engage in any act or transaction that is necessary to ensure its proper performance and also regulate its own procedure in accordance with the Act.
The Attorney General told the House that the Authority also has the power, through its Governing Board, to employ persons as may be necessary to carry out its functions with the exception of Registrar and Deputy Registrar of Deeds.
Williams said that the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority (Amendment) Bill 2017 seeks to amend the Principal Act in a number of ways, one of which includes, substituting for section 5(2) of the Principal Act, a new section to provide for a change in the membership of the Governing Board of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority.
In this regard, Williams said that the Board’s membership has been increased from eight to 11. The three new members are another nominee of the Ministry of Finance, one from the Ministry of Business and a nominee of the Guyana Revenue Authority.
The Minister explained that the rationale for the change in membership of the Governing Board stems from the need to have a Board that comprises members that possess a wide range of expertise and experience.
With the addition of these three new members, Williams said it is hoped that it would not only enrich the deliberations of the Board but also increase its efficiency in carrying out its functions.
Furthermore, the Parliamentarian said that the changes in names from the Ministry of Housing and Water to the Ministry of Communities, and from the Guyana Bar Association of Legal Professionals to the Berbice Bar Association are reflected in the membership of the Board.
He noted that consequential amendments were made to Section 6 of the Act in re-lettering because of the re-lettering of the membership of the Board in section 5(2). Williams said that the quorum for a meeting has also been increased from three to five members.
The Amendment Bill however did not find favour with the political opposition. According to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the Bill only serves to confirm in the hands of Williams, nothing but absolute power.
Opposition members emphasized that Williams has not brought a single amendment to the Principle Act which would see checks and balances in place to the power he will have regarding the functioning of the Board.
In this regard, Opposition Member Adrian Anamayah said that the Bill was not about changing any powers vested in the minister but rather strengthening it. He added that the Deeds Registry, created nearly 100 years ago, was subject to a revised Act in 2013 designed to ensure efficient performance and ease of doing business.
The 2013 Act, he reminded was passed unanimously, and then Opposition Member, Khemraj Ramjattan, noted that it “could be managed without any politicos”.
He said that at the time there was no desire for political control over the Registry. The Bill he added is a clear case of “control freakism.”
The politician received resounding support for his position particularly from his colleague, Opposition Member, Anil Nandlall. The former Attorney General noted that there was no problem with the broadening of the Board, but questioned the “preponderance of power” ascribed to the subject minister.
He said that the move to take control of certain boards has manifested its self, several times with the government. He added that the attempt to have a minister “run things when a board expires, can’t be a good thing.”
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan took to the floor and objected to Anamayah’s statements. The Parliamentarian dismissed the claims that the Bill bestowed too much power on the minister.
He noted, instead, that the new measures “go a far way towards making the Board more inclusive.” He argued that there will now be nominees from the Berbice and Georgetown Bar Associations, the Ministry of Finance’s Valuation Committee and the Ministry of Business.
“Because of the nature of the country’s progress into more commercial transactions, we will need a governing body that is more expansive,” Minister Ramjattan pointed out.
Attorney General Basil Williams said that what the Opposition was trying to do, was misrepresent the legislation’s intent. He maintained that his power on the Board will be transitory.
Minister Williams also stressed that the enlargement of the Board to enhance its effectiveness is something that no one has a problem with.
He then recommended the passage of the Bill which was then examined clause by clause and later passed by the majority on the government’s side of the House.
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