Despite taking several “baby steps” towards establishing a fully operational Land Title Registry Office (LTRO), that was set up more than a decade ago, Government has confirmed that it’s not to happen before April 1.
This after Bermuda’s Ombudsman, Victoria Pearman questioned the length of time it has taken in her Annual Report three years ago.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, on the Budget allocation for the upcoming fiscal year, Public Works Minister, Colonel David Burch told MPs that the LTRO had scanned more than 11,600 paper deeds between the year 2000 and 2017.
But he said the electronic register was unlikely to be up and running by April 1, “in order to ensure that we will get it right rather than meet an unrealistic deadline”.
When contacted by Bermuda Real, the Ombudsman said: “The developments that I have been made aware of appear to be improvements.”
But she said: “It continues to be my hope that the people of Bermuda will not have to wait much longer for the Land Title Registry Office to open its doors.”
In the interim, however, Ms Pearman said: “I will continue to monitor the Office’s progress and for a clear timeline to be provided for the Office to address the matters that remain outstanding.”
Bermuda Real has been following this story for the past four years, when the Ombudsman pointed up what she termed an “embarrassing and expensive situation” that was first highlighted in 2014.
In our report, published on August 11, 2016, under the headline “Continuous Consultation” With Lawyers Delayed Land Title Registry, Ms Pearman reiterated her concerns.
She also noted that Bermuda’s taxpayers, at that point in time, had paid out more than $11 million, for an office that’s losing an estimated $1.1 million in revenue a year.
That was two years ago, when a Government spokesperson said: “The delay has been caused mostly by the continuous consultation with attorneys.”
But an agreement with the attorneys had been reached and the new legislation was changed to meet all their requests.
Since the office was established in 2006, Ms Pearman said the LTRO staff had “reorganized the Government deeds system and then used the Government deeds to test the LTR’s electronic system by registering all Government-owned land”.
The Land Title Registry Act, which was introduced by the first-ever Progressive Labour Party administration in 2011, before the change of Government in 2012, saw the new registration rules amended two years later in 2013.
At that point in time, the Ombudsman was still hopeful the LTRO would open in 2016, as promised in the 2015 Throne Speech.
In the speech, Governor John Rankin said: “Bermuda lacks a system to register land title, and many Bermudian families have experienced avoidable disputes when title was thought to be vested in one person is actually vested in another.”
He also targeted “lawyers and agents” in Bermuda for under-handed practices.
“Historically, some Bermudians have also endured lawyers and agents who were able to prey on the vulnerable and legally unaware.”
On that note, he said: “Interested parties have stymied its implementation for their own motives.
“While it is not in operation, our current archaic, slow, cumbersome and inefficient system of deeds-based title transfer is still in effect.
“This Government will bring the Land Title Registration regime into force in order to minimise the chances of fraud, provide simple proof of ownership, and record the rights and interests in land on one register, with all land information held in one place.”
All this while Ms Pearman said in her 2015 report Ms Pearman 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”.
At that point in time, she said: “The length of time it has taken for Bermuda to adopt a title-based registration system and bring its office on line frankly is embarrassing and expensive.
She concluded that making this office fully operational “will be an important step in Bermuda’s administration of land rights”. And on that note she said: “We anticipate that the Government will ensure this is not delayed further and will proceed with the necessary steps.”
Two years later, it would appear that while “baby steps” have been taken over the years, as a country, Bermuda still has many more steps to go before making a fully operational Land Title Registry Office a reality.