Nearly six years after the Act was implemented, the new Progressive Labour Party administration has vowed to “bring the Land Title Registration regime into force”. But Bermuda’s Ombudsman Victoria Pearman, who has questioned why it has taken so long and the expense of local taxpayers to the tune of $11 million and counting by paying for an office that has yet to open its doors.
And in an exclusive interview with Bermuda Real, while hopeful that this office will soon become a reality, Ms Pearman noted that both government administrations failed to make it a reality, a failure that has been both expensive and embarrassing.
The Throne Speech announcement on Friday noted that “Bermuda lacks a system to register land title, and many Bermudians families have experienced avoidable disputes when title was thought to be vested in one person is actually vested in another”.
In his one-hour speech Governor John Rankin 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,” he said.
“Although the Land Title Registry Act 2011 was enacted nearly six years ago, 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.”
Said Governor Rankin: “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.”
What he didn’t say was that Bermuda’s taxpayers have forked out more than $11 million since the Land Title Registry Act 2011 was passed to set up and run an office that has yet to open its doors.
That was pointed out by Bermuda’s Ombudsman Victoria Pearman, more than once, in her annual reports dating back some three years.
When contacted by Bermuda Real this past weekend for her reaction to the Throne Speech pledge, Ms Pearman stressed that both administrations “failed to address this over the years”. The law was enacted under the former PLP Government in 2011.
“I am encouraged to hear the new Government’s commitment to opening the Land Title Registry Office to the public and making operational Bermuda’s land title registration system,” said Ms Pearman.
“I reported on previous governments’ slow rate of progress in my Annual Reports for 2014 and 2015 and again in my forthcoming Annual Report for 2016.
“Regrettably the Land Title Registry office was established in 2005. The taxpayers of Bermuda have paid over $11 million to set up and run this office which is still not operational. The Government has also lost the revenue which the Land Title Registry Office could have generated during these years in which it has not been open to the public.”
Frankly, she said the fact that it has taken this long to activate the office is both “embarrassing and expensive” for Bermuda’s taxpayers and the island as a country still lagging behind the times.
“It is unfortunate that Bermuda has remained so far behind so many countries on its exclusive reliance on a deed-based property transaction system,” Ms Pearman said. “As was stated in my Annual Report 2014, the length of time it has taken the Government to adopt a title-based registration system and bring this office online is frankly embarrassing and expensive.
“In my Annual Report 2016, which will be tabled and then released to the public by the end of this month, I report further on the steps the former Government had taken towards making the Land Title Registry Office fully operational.
“It is my hope that the Government acts swiftly to open the Land Title Registry Office and that the people of Bermuda will soon benefit from the services and protections offered by a title-based land registration system.
“Persons looking for more information on the Land Title Registration Office and the title-based registration system proposed are encouraged to review our Annual Reports which are found on our website.”
Bermuda Real carried two separate articles on the Ombudsman’s Reports in August 2016. The first report headlined Still Closed at $11 Million & Counting noted that taxpayers paid out more than $11m over the past decade for a Land Title Registry (LTR) Office that has yet to open its doors to serve Bermuda’s public.
The second article, entitled “Continuous Consultation” With Lawyers Delayed Land Title Registry, was published on August 11th last year.
That report carried a quote from the Ministry of Public Works that said: “The delay has been caused mostly by continuous consultation with attorneys. However, the LTR has reached an agreement with the attorneys and the new legislation has been changed to meet all their requests.”
At that time it was stated that the LTR Office was set to go live by or before the end of last year, which never happened.
Both articles can be found on BermudaReal.com published in the interest of the Bermuda public’s interest.