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Land records at risk

…No back-up to registered land title records following standoff

THE country risks losing forever its records on registered land titles following a standoff between the Ministry of lands, housing and survey and the Office of the registrar of titles.

Officials from the Ministry of lands were recently told to stop work on electronically scanning land records by officers within the Registrar’s Office, halting a vitally important task of backing up records that run the risk of being damaged and wiped out from records.

The issue is one of national concern as Island Sun was informed that on two occasions in the past year, the building was almost burned to the ground, once when an electrical fault in the room housing the records caused a light bulb to explode, and on another occasion a group of men threatened to burn down the building following disagreement over land records.

According to a well-placed source within the Ministry of Lands, staff of the office of the registrar have for years held monopoly over the system declining to share the records to the Ministry of lands people without them having to pay for copies.

And the Ministry of Lands is losing out on millions of dollars of revenue from people who should be paying land rents each year and from those renewing their fixed term estate titles where they are required to pay a premium price which is quite high.

He said that could be the reason why revenue by the Ministry has dropped from $6 million to $3 million in the past year, given that land rents and renewing of FTEs are not up to date.

The source who requested anonymity said the problem started when the Office of the registrar of titles was moved from the Ministry of Lands to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs some years ago.

He said some years ago there was a programme of scanning all land register records, there was backup kept electronically as well, however they stopped the scanning programme leaving records outdated.

“We have tried in recent years to have that restarted again, so we will scan the whole register from scratch again.”

The staff said in recent times consultations had been done with the registrar of titles, the Ministry of lands and ICT Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury where an MOU was put together seeing that the officer of the registry were worried about security, saying what if the electronic records are not secured, and the possibility of someone getting their hands on it.

“They have some valid concerns, and we sought to address all of those questions in the MOU which was signed late last year.”

He said work on scanning the records then resumed after the New Year, however the registry office decided to halt the programme without giving any reasons.

“So we are still stuck in a stalemate, we tried to meet with the registrar of titles people last week, but they didn’t come.

“We are having try to threaten action through the Commissioner of Lands to try and get some action, because the commissioner of lands has some powers through the land and titles act to give directions to those people, but so far to date we have not seen any response to those directions.”

Island Sun could not get response from the Registrar of Titles before this article went to print last night , however, the Commissioner of Lands, Nelson Naoapu confirmed the matter saying it was an internal administrative issue.

He also confirmed that he has issued a directive to the Registrar of titles over the matter, and that the directive was relayed to the Attorney General Chambers for clarification given that the registry office has questioned his power to give such directive seeking his officers’ access into the registry records.

Mr Naoapu said on Thursday, the AG Chambers advised that the Commissioner of Lands cam give such a directive on issues concerning general administrative matters, but cannot interfere with the work of the registry.

He said following the advice, he is looking at sitting down with all concerned as a way of addressing this matter.

He stressed the importance of having the registry records scanned to allow for backup copies, adding that officials from the registry office should come forward and work with them if they see this as important.

“At the moment the records are at risk, and given that the building is very old and that a lot of people are not happy about the Ministry, it is wise that we plan for the worst,” he added.



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