THE Offices of the Commissioner of Lands and the Registrar of Titles (RoT) have locked horns over the issue of transfer of Fixed Term Estate [FTE] titles, trading accusations and counter-accusations over the matter.
This follows claims by the Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil last Friday that his officers have uncovered a case where his signature was forged and office seal used in a grant of an FTE to a foreign company without paying the land fees.
In an exclusive interview with Solomon Star, Mr. McNeil, said police are investigating the matter, which involved the granting of a title over a prime real estate tract along the Prince Philip Highway in suburban Kukum.
Mr. McNeil said he had since taken the “drastic action” not to sign off on any new transfers until the Office of the Registrar of Titles “is willing to cooperate.”
“All I am asking is for the Office of the Registrar of Titles to accept my directions and to sign a simple declaration that they will abide by it.
“I have received confirmation in writing from the Solicitor General that my directions are consistent with provisions of the Land and Titles Act,” he said.
Since assuming the office of the Lands Commissioner, Mr. McNeil has established a read-only XL spreadsheet in which all transfers of FTEs are recorded.
Mr. McNeil said this is meant to be used by the Registrar of Titles officers before registering instruments that are purportedly signed by the Commissioner of Lands.
He said the measures he has and continues to take are intended to strengthen and protect the integrity of both offices.
“This is not an attempt by the Commissioner of Lands to meddle or interfere in the Registrar’s job. This is about the Commissioner of Lands wishing to ensure that dealings purported to be signed by me really are signed by me,” Mr. McNeil said in a statement last week.
“The Registrar of Titles has offered up no alternative solution to provide this assurance, and instead appears to be accepting every instrument on its face value,” he said.
But the Office of the Registrar of Titles has hit back, saying the instrument in question was shown to be genuine.
“The signature was his and the seal was genuine. We don’t know what the Commissioner is talking about. In fact, it was one of his officers who came to our office to register the instrument. It also has a receipt for the payment of the transfer of the title,” officials from the Registrar of Titles office told Solomon Star.
They said the Commissioner has since collected the documents from the RoT’s office.
“Why the Commissioner had to collect the so-called forged documents after it was deposited with us is what we are questioning. Because once you have deposited documents with us and they are in our custody, you are not allowed to take them back from us,” the officials said.
On the matter of the read-only spreadsheet, the officials said checking it is not a regulatory matter. “It is not obligatory on us,” they said.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Lands has this week uncovered a second purported grant by the Commissioner of Lands, for a prized commercial land parcel in Kukum. As with the first forged grant, the Commissioner maintains he did not sign this instrument and it does not and never has appeared in his spreadsheet.
“This Grant was not passed through our ministry officers, it does not appear in our lodgement book, and we have no idea who lodged it with the Registrar of Titles office,” the Commissioner said.
“Also similar to the first case, the FTE owner is willing to surrender the land title back to the Commissioner and they did not pay for the land because they themselves suspected it was dodgy,” the Commissioner added.
“The Registrar of Titles is yet to show me a copy of the grant instrument and is not cooperating with my inquiries. I am almost certain though that, if and when they show it to me, we will see that this grant was also forged,” he added.
The Commissioner added: “I have concrete evidence in the form of my spreadsheet that I have not signed these grants, and ICT forensics can search back earlier saved versions if necessary to prove they were never on my spreadsheet.
All the Registrar of Titles officers have to do is commit to checking this spreadsheet, it’s not a big ask and it raises serious questions when they do not agree to such a simple and straightforward direction,” he said.
See further response from Registrar of Titles in separate report.
By Alfred Sasako