By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Attorney General yesterday said The Bahamas' new companies registry is ready for testing by the private sector as he promised "a much-improved user experience".
Ryan Pinder KC, speaking ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the contractor hired to overhaul the registry, which is managed and administered by the Registrar General's Department, has been working diligently to overcome “supply chain issues" and deliver the project within an acceptable timeframe.
"That platform is getting ready to be tested by industry, and we're moving into the data migration phase of that," he explained. "We have data on a number of different systems, and so the data migration part of it is going to take some effort to be able to get the information correct because you can't have incorrect data.
“Some of that's going to be required checking back on the actual physical files, and checking data, because it's coming from multiple sources. But all of that is certainly in train, and we look forward to a much-improved customer experience with the company registry.”
The companies registry is where banks, law firms and financial and corporate services providers go to electronically reserve names and incorporate companies. Camille Gomez-Jones, the Registrar General, previously disclosed that the new registry will effectively merge five different computer systems into one.
Apart from company name reservation and incorporation, another system is used to store all the data, and others track the payment of fees and record the images of scanned documents. Paper files serve as a back-up.
“When you want an update to your company I have to go into all these systems because they don’t talk to each other and make sure everything is considered so we can give an accurate report on the status of your company,” Ms Gomez-Jones said earlier this year. “What we are seeking to do is remove all of these systems and merge them into one. In doing that, we want to make sure that the data we are merging is accurate and error free."
Users of the companies registry have often complained that delays and inefficiency impact their experience. Paper documents are often misplaced, and the system also previously depended on a log book that was updated by hand. Every time details on a particular company were sought, users had to ask one of the office assistants to sift through multiple files and folders for the necessary information, while finding a specific company without a reference number was almost impossible.
Public access to the civil registry at the Registrar General’s Department was restored last month after an “unexpected and inordinate delay” and disruption. The registry, known as CRIS, had to be “disabled” from last September to preserve the integrity of its data while the digital platform was redesigned.
Meanwhile, Mr Pinder yesterday said the company responsible for last year's Exuma oil spill has paid the fine into an escrow account and those funds are now “immediately available" to the Government.
He added: “One thing that we look to do is to establish an environmental sustainability fund of sorts, and if you would read the Environmental Planning and Protection Act, it is actually a mandated function in that Act to establish this fund for the purposes of environmental matters and that fund to be funded by fines, penalties and permit fees.”
While the fund's creation was part of the Act passed into law under the former Minnis administration, it has never been properly established. But Mr Pinder said there is now Cabinet approval to proceed with the fund's creation, and the Exuma oil spill fine will be held in escrow until it is established.
Mr Pinder said there are several pieces of anti-corruption legislation on the Government's agenda, including the recently-tabled Ombudsman Bill that has been updated to reflect the Paris principles on human rights and their protection.
The International Development Law Organisation (IDLO) is also helping The Bahamas to craft other pieces of anti-corruption legislation, covering areas such as whistleblower protection and a complete revamp of the Public Disclosure Act along with a code of conduct for civil servants.