By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government's 14-day target for completing property registration would represent "a tremendous improvement", an attorney yesterday urging: "It's time to knock out the low hanging fruit."
Darron Pickstock, who heads the Chamber of Commerce's trade and investment division, told Tribune Business that the Minnis administration's drive to slash the property registration turnaround time by at least 50 percent would create "peace of mind" for all parties involved in real estate deals.
Describing the 14-day timeframe to register property purchases with the Registrar General's Department as "very achievable", Mr Pickstock said the process should not take the four weeks - and "sometimes longer" - that is currently required.
He added that achieving the government's target will "bode well" for the drive to improve the "ease of doing business" in The Bahamas, describing it as an "easy win" that will bring this nation into line with the time required to complete similar processes in other jurisdictions.
Mr Pickstock, an attorney with Glinton, Sweeting & O'Brien, spoke out after the annual report produced by the Prime Minister's Office's Delivery Unit identified cutting the property registration timeline to 14 days as one of its key "ease of doing business" priorities.
It is aiming to achieve the 50 percent turnaround time reduction by 2021, coinciding with when it hopes to "significantly improve" upon The Bahamas' current 118th position in the World Bank's annual "ease of doing business" rankings.
The Delivery Unit says the improvement will be achieved by placing greater reliance on technology "to further streamline and digitise the process of registering property conveyances" and associated instruments such as mortgages, although no specific details are provided.
Efforts will also be made to boost "operational efficiency" at the Registrar General's Department, which oversees and maintains the Registry of Records, through the addition of more staff and document scanners to improve document turnaround. A public "feedback and complaint" mechanism will also be created.
Mr Pickstock, identifying speedier property registration as one of the simpler, quicker reforms to improve The Bahamas' ease and cost of doing business, told Tribune Business: "I think that 14-day timeframe to be able to register your conveyance is very achievable.
"The process is, once you take that conveyance down to the Treasury to pay the Stamp Duty, you would then send that conveyance to the Registrar General's Department to be recorded in the public registry. At that point, there is no need to do anything complicated other than making sure the documents are properly scanned and registered.
"It shouldn't take the amount of time it takes now, and sometimes over that. Generally speaking, it's about a month. Taking 14 days is very achievable. The system should be such that it does not take four weeks, and it used to take much longer than four weeks," Mr Pickstock added.
"I would like to commend the Government for cutting the timeframe down from months to four weeks, and then seeking to cut it from four weeks to 14 days is a tremendous improvement. Knock those low-hanging fruit out - real property tax registration, property registration - and get it sorted out because it's an easy win."
In contrast, Mr Pickstock said it had taken his law firm "a matter of hours" to obtain documents required for a commercial transaction from the Cayman Islands' corporate registry. "I know it's not the same, but with the position we're trying to reach there is no reason for registration to take four-plus weeks," he added.
"Fourteen days is very achievable and bodes well for the ease of doing business and the areas in need of improvement..... This is one area of low hanging fruit the Government can make strides on very quickly. The other low hanging fruit is the registration of real property tax.
"You do these things quickly, and these are the steps to achieving your intended goal, which is to make it easier to do business for locals and non-locals."
Mr Pickstock last week revealed that it sometimes takes new owners between six to eight months to register their properties with the Real Property Tax Department. Besides the aggravation for clients, this also makes it harder for the Government to collect due revenues from a tax where there is already a $480m arrears mountain.
He added though, that just improving the registration process at the Registrar General's Department will have "a significant impact" for real estate buyers and purchasers, as well as all professionals - realtors and attorneys - involved in facilitating these transactions.
"Buyers, particularly when they are non-Bahamians, when you tell them it will take a month to register their property, the first question they ask is: 'Why does it take so long?'" Mr Pickstock said.
"For them, they need certainty and want to feel comfortable that everything is as it should be. When it takes long to do these simple things, it means they can't get the documents back until four weeks later. It eases their mind if they get the documents back in a short period of time."
A 14-day property registration turnaround time "makes the entire process smoother and easier" for the likes of attorneys and banks, Mr Pickstock added, with the latter especially eager to perfect their mortgage loan security through its proper recording at the registry.
"They want to know their security is secured, that it is registered, takes first priority and that no one has re-registered that property," he said. "They don't want to risk something happening to the registration process, something unscrupulous happening, and the property being sold and registered two times.
"Once the mortgage is taken out the bank is the legal owner of the property until it is paid off. It gives them piece of mind that the property is secured."