Commissioner of Lands refuses signing grant of instrument from hereon
IT was bound to happen. And on the weekend it did.
Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil has exposed what the public has suspected all along – alleged fraudulent land dealings including forging the Commissioner’s signature – in Honiara.
Refusing to be part of the alleged scam, the Commissioner who has since reported the matter to the police, declared he would no longer sign grant of title (instrument) requiring his signature starting last Friday.
This was because of differences with the Registrar of Titles Office staff, he said.
“Unfortunately, I am at an impasse with the Registrar of Titles (RoT) office which has led me to take drastic action,” Mr. McNeil said in a statement over the weekend.
“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. 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,” Mr. McNeil said in the statement.
“Under Section 5 of the Land and Titles Act, the Commissioner of Lands has the power to give directions to the Registrar of Titles and Registry staff, but unfortunately, they do not accept my Directions despite being validly issued with the intention of upholding the integrity of the land registers.
“In the absence of cooperation from Registrar of Titles, the only way I can try to stop forged instruments from being registered is to simply not sign any more instruments and announce this to everyone so that if any instrument requiring the Commissioner’s signature do get registered from now on, it will be much clearer they are all forged.”
He warned this step though “will undoubtedly cause complaints from the public which will grow louder as each day and week passes.”
“I am therefore calling upon the Registrar of Titles to see the sense and lawfulness in what I am Directing under Section 5 of the Land and Titles Act.”
Mr. McNeil said the action he had taken was a result of a grant of a fixed-term estate, which was recently “registered with my forged signature and fake Commissioner of Lands seal.”
“The instrument was registered by Registrar of Titles [RoT) staff without undertaking a mandatory check of a read-only Excel spreadsheet which I have been maintaining since Day 1 of taking on this role in 2018 and despite me giving specific Directions to RoT staff to check this spreadsheet before registering instruments purportedly signed by me.
“The failure to undertake this check exposes the land registry to potential fraud and undermines the integrity of the land register.
“Luckily in the recent case, the company benefitting from the forged grant smelled a rat, partly because they had not paid any money for the grant, and despite the grant purportedly saying a premium of $40,101 had been paid.
“They were more than willing to surrender the grant back the next day. I have requested the police to investigate and we have a clear idea of who is responsible,” he said.
“Currently though I have no guarantee that this won’t happen again and the next people to purportedly benefit from a forged grant might not be so willing to surrender it back, thus potentially leading to long and costly litigation.
“This can all be avoided if the Registrar of Titles staff simply check my Excel Spreadsheet, which they are apparently refusing to do,” Mr. McNeil said.
The Commissioner of Lands said even if the RoT staff agree to do this “I need more reassurance.”
The officer responsible for registering the forged grant used the excuse they do not have access to the spreadsheet, whereas clearly, the spreadsheet is in fact available to RoT officers.
“In order to avoid such excuses in the future, I need RoT officers to sign a declaration stating they are aware of my Directions and they agree to abide by these Directions.
“Doing so makes everyone accountable, and right now nobody is accountable, and that is an unacceptable situation.” Mr. McNeil said.
The Office of the Registrar of Titles could not be reached for comments over the weekend.
By Alfred Sasako