A New bill will put government in charge of the deeds office

The Deed Registries Amendment Bill seeks to put the minister of agriculture and land reform in direct charge of technical decisions around the Deeds Office.

On Friday, agriculture, land reform, and rural development minister Thoko Didiza formally gave notice of her intention to put the Deed Registries Amendment Bill before the National Assembly, with the publication of an explanatory memorandum on the legislation.

The wording of the Bill shows that if it was passed in its current form, the power of the Deeds Registries Regulations Board to make any actual regulations will be removed. Instead, they would become an advisory body that will make recommendations to the minister in charge of land affairs.

The board will be able to make recommendations based on specific advice sought by the minister or offered by themselves but the minister will be under no obligation to heed any advice.

This means that a politician will be in charge of the day-to-day technical management of a complex business. That will include information on the foreign ownership of land, and the race of land owners.

The Law Society of South Africa had said previously during the comment period in the creation of the Bill that the regulations board, as it currently stands, is the  "best suited to formulate" regulations, being made up of officials of the Registrar of Deeds Office and conveyancers. The details they deal with "may have to be amended quickly and on short notice", it said, and such decisions are not ideally punted up to a minister.

One of the regulations means that the minister will have power over "the manner and form in which personal information relating to race, gender, citizenship, and nationality of land owners in South Africa may be collected for statistical and land audit purposes only, and only for capturing such information into a register for official use by any department of state or administration in the national or provincial sphere of Government."

According to previous statements from The Law Society, it would not object to such information being gathered, as long as it does not "impose an unfair onus on conveyancers."

Read the full Bill here and the statement from The Law Society here  

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