Government authorities have “recently finalized changes” to existing legislation to facilitate the official role of the Land Title Registry (LTR) set up a decade ago, that has yet to open its doors to the Bermuda public. Ombudsman Victoria Pearman reiterated concerns on the length of time it has taken to get the LTR officially up and running.

To date, local taxpayers have paid out more than $11 million, for an office that’s losing an estimated $1.1 million in revenue a year. When contacted by Bermuda Real, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Works said: “The delay has been caused mostly by continuous consultation with attorneys. However, the LTR has now reached an agreement with the attorneys and the new legislation has been changed to meet all their requests.

“Consequently, because of the changes, the LTR are also updating all their forms and practice guides in anticipation of going live later this year.” The Land Title Registry Act, introduced by the former Progressive Labour Party Government in 2011, saw the new registration rules amended two years later in 2013. To date, the legislation is not in force, or in effect.

Realistically, the “recently finalized changes” are not likely to go to the House of Assembly until Parliament reconvenes in November, if not next year. And next year runs into the next general election, which could possibly see the new amendments placed back on the back burner. At last check, the Ombudsman said Government still anticipates opening this office in 2016, as promised in the 2015 Throne Speech. The Ministry spokeswoman told Bermuda Real that it is still the One Bermuda Alliance Government’s intention to open the LTR to serve the Bermuda public this year.

That statement was issued on August 5th, in response to follow up questions by Bermuda Real last week. Asked what exactly the six member staff, including four Bermudians employed in the LTRO have been doing for the past ten years, she said: “The LTR has worked with an IT provider to design and create an electronic land registry system, which was tailor-made for Bermuda.” Since the office was established in 2006, she said LTR staff have “reorganized the Government deeds system and then used the Government deeds to test the LTRs electronic system by registering all Government-owned

Asked what that entails she said LTR staff have “researched both international and Bermuda legislation in order to draft the most appropriate legislation for land title registration law and rules in Bermuda”. “Over the years, the LTR has consulted with various stakeholders, including the banks, the local Bar Association and surveyors to obtain their views on the draft legislation and to explain to them what land registration entails and how the system works.” LTR staff also “created various internal forms and over 40 practice guides to explain to both the stakeholders and members of the public how the registered land system of conveyancing works”. “A training manual covering all internal procedures and processes was also created by staff,” she added.

Over the years she noted that LTR staff also “provided support and advice on property issues to other Government departments”. “By way of current example, they are helping the Tax Commissioner’s Office to reduce their lengthy case backlog for Primary Family Homestead applications,” she said.

Staff have also assisted the public with boundary issues involving Government land by “regularly” advising, identifying and then issuing “advise on ownership problems”.

She noted that Government has also “trained Bermudian staff in land title registration and seconded them to the UK to obtain further training”, while training staff in “other Government departments, banks and attorneys in how to use the LTRO system”.

“In 2015, the LTR seconded two members of staff to work with the Department of Land Valuation while they were working on their five-year review,” the spokeswoman said. “At present the LTR are working with their IT provider so that certain functions of the Deeds Registry can be merged with the LTR. The LTR will take over responsibility for registering mortgages, voluntary conveyances and unregistered property transactions once it becomes operational,” she added.

In her latest annual report for 2015, the Ombudsman pointed up what she termed an “embarrassing and expensive” situation, that was first highlighted in her report for 2014. In that report Ms Pearman stated that “it was surprising to learn that Bermuda was so far behind much of the developed world in its exclusive reliance on a deed-based property transaction system”. “The length of time taken for Bermuda to adopt a title-based registration system and bring this office on line frankly is embarrassing and expensive,” Ms Pearman said.

She noted that if the LTR were operational, “it is projected that its minimum annual income would be $1.1 million”. “Our Office has reached out to the Attorney General to discuss this important matter. To date the Ombudsman’s invitation has not been taken up,” she added. She concluded that making this office fully operational “will be an important step in Bermuda’s administration of land rights”. On that note she said: “We anticipate that the Government will ensure this is not delayed any further and will proceed with all necessary steps.”

By Ceola Wilson