Land Surveyors (Profession) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 16/20131935 16 Jan, 2014
Dr. Roopnarine: Mr. Speaker, in the interest of time, I shall confine myself to some brief observations on the scope and the intended impact of the Bill. It is safe to say that the primary thrust of the Bill is to amend certain sections of the Land Surveyors Act, Chapter 97:01, which, as the Minister just reminded us, was last revised in 1972 and 1973, and which has indeed been overtaken by new techniques of measurement and new technologies, such as GPS.
The new and revised Bill speaks of direct or remote measurement. I would not quote the clause but it is clause 2(j) on page 6 of the Bill. Nowhere is this modernisation thrust more readily seen than in the comparison of the syllabus and the professional requirements of the Land Surveyors Act, Chapter 97:01, with those of the new Bill before the House.
If one compares the Land Surveyors Examination regulations, the subsidiary legislation accompanying the Land Surveyors Act, Chapter 97:01, Section 7, to the examination subject set out in the Second Schedule of the new 2013 legislation, and that is on page 32 of our Act... While I am on the subject of the syllabus and certification, examination areas and discipline, and professional requirements of land surveyors, it is worth noting that the 2013 Bill breaks new ground in setting out the laws with which land surveyors are expected to develop some familiarity, and these are listed in the Second Schedule, Section 2.
When we consider, Mr. Speaker, the legion of vexatious issues surrounding land tenure across the country, issues which not infrequently flood the courts with litigation reminiscent of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce of Dickens’ Bleak House, which I warmly recommend to my colleagues in the legal profession, we cannot overstate the importance of strengthening the legal, administrative and surveying infrastructure for the administration of land. This is what the provisions of the 2013 Bill are designed to achieve.
In the Land Surveyors Act, Chapter 97:01, land is almost exclusively land, almost, because, in fact, there is a single provision referring to water. In the subsidiary legislation, lower down in the Examination Regulations under the heading “The Theory and Practice of Land Surveying”, written paper:
“Candidates are to be examined on their knowledge of the principles of surveying including the general principles of harbour, coast, river and general marine surveying including computations of discharges or rivers and canals.”
In the present Bill, in the interpretation section, land includes land covered by water and the seabed under Guyana’s jurisdiction.
In clause 2(i) land surveys include hydrographic surveys in which the topography of a river, lake, ocean, creek, conservancy or canal bed is determined.
In the light of rapidly increasing exploitation of river resources in mining operations, including oil exploration, and issues of jurisdiction and exercise of control over our maritime resources, this enlarged concept of land is in keeping with evolving realities. It is fair to say that the Land Surveyors Act, Chapter 97:01, was limited not only by its antiquated and outmoded science and instruments, but also by its equally antiquated and outmoded governance arrangements.
The amendments of 1972 planted the Minister at the heart of all decision making, major and minor. The Minister issues the Land Surveyors Certificates, appoints the Board of Examiners, is himself a member of the Board, receives, decides and reports from the Board an applicant seeking exemption from examinations. The Minister has the power to divert the increasing of licensing fees away from the Accountant General to pay the members of the Board, and so on.
Land surveyors in the public service had to obtain the permission of the Minister, in writing, to take on an articled apprentice. If we look at the Sections 22, 26 and 31 in the 1972 amendments, the heavy hand of the Minister is everywhere, micromanaging with a vengeance, master of all he surveyed.
Happily, the 2013 Bill before us parts ways with this centralist perversity, as quaint in its own ways the theodolite and tachymeter, instruments that were revolutionary when they first appeared in 1571 and 1878 as the GPS is in our time. Instead, in the age of article 13, there is a proper resort to consultation. Among the functions of the Board of Land Surveyors established by the Bill is to advise the Minister after consultation with the professional body representing land surveyors on the need for amendments to the laws referring to land surveying.
In the following section, section 5, the Minister shall, on the recommendation of the Board, appoint a land surveyor to be registrar of the Board.
In section 19, in preparing the code of ethics, the Board shall consult with professional bodies representing land surveyors and any other non-governmental organisations that in their view are representative of the interest of members of the public who commission survey work and so on.
In the appointment of the Board of five members,
“...three land surveyors with at least 10 years practice in Guyana are to be appointed by the Minister after consultation with the professional body representing land surveyors. The Minister is restricted to appointing a single member in his own deliberate judgement. He is allowed to appoint one person other than Land Surveyor who is qualified to serve on the board by reason of relevant experience in public or professional life.”
It is a qualification that is loose and wide enough to leave the Minister more than ample room to exercise his judgement. I cannot leave the subject of the Board of Land Surveyors without contrasting it to the board established under the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission Act of 1999. There, the Board of 11 members, not counting the Commissioner, are all appointed by the Minister although it appears that in practice at least two of the 11 members have been drawn from non-governmental organisations. However, I can find no provision in the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission Act of 1999 that compels the appointment of non-governmental representatives on the Board. Members have come from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Central Housing and Planning Authority, the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC), the Ministry and the Office of the President. This hardly makes for a sufficiently diverse and independent Board.
While the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission Act of 1999 is not our primary concern here, the Hon. Minister may wish to give some consideration to these observations. One provision that has given rise to concern among private land surveyors is that governing the right of Government’s land surveyors to do private surveys. This is section 18(4):
“A land surveyor employed by the Commission may, without permission from the Commissioner, carry out land surveying services for others outside of his normal working hours with the Commission for a fee or otherwise, without any aliquot part of the fee being paid to the Commission.”
This is only the most recent formulation of this issue. In the 1972 amendment of the Land Surveyors Act, in section 29, the issue is fully treated. I would not quote from the Act, but it is in section 29. Section 29 was subsequently repealed by Section 48 of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission Act of 1999. It was replaced by Section 14 of the Act. The issue now resurfaces in a Bill before us.
The concern of land surveyors in private practice is that the provision makes them victims of unfair competition. They may have a point, although when we take account of Part IV, the Regulation of Practice, section 17, we find that, in fact, there is a penalty that is attached to Government surveyors who do private surveys on their own time. It states:
“Any land surveyor who is in the employ of the Commission or in the service of the Government as a land surveyor who is not engaged in private practice is entitled to have a licence of annual registration issued to the land surveyor without charge.”
This may not, in monetary terms, be sufficient of a levelling measure to reduce the concerns of the private surveyors. My own recommendation, which I discussed with the Hon. Minister, and which I hope will find favour with Colleagues on both sides of the House, is that section 18(4) be amended along the lines of the amendment that has been circulated. The amendment consists of creating a new subsection (2), which will now read:
“A land surveyor employed by the Commission may apply to the Commissioner for permission to carry out land surveying services for others outside of his normal working hours, for a fee or otherwise, without any aliquot part of the fee being paid to the Commission.”
There is then the creation of a new section 2, where the Commissioner, acting on the advice of the professional body representing land surveyors, shall grant or deny such permission. In the event of a denial of permission, the applicant should be provided with the reasons for the decision. That is the sum total of the amendment. I believe that the land surveyors in private practice, with whom I have consulted, would have their apprehensions put to rest, were we to accept this amendment.
The document from the Ministry, recently sent to the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources, stated the expected impact of the legislation in these hopeful words:
“The legislation will support the modernisation of the agricultural land market and the administration of public lands by improving the security of tenure on private and state lands. These Bills and regulations will provide an adequate and contemporary framework for the regulation of the land surveying profession and the directive measure on conducting land surveys.”
If the Bill is to have such an impact, it is important to ensure that it puts to rest all doubts and secures the fullest support from the profession and the wider public.
After all the science, technology and measurement, Mr. Speaker, I seek your indulgence to end on a note that draws attention, less we forget, to the wonders of the object of the surveyors attention, the landscape of our Guyana. I take my cue from the most renown of all of Guyana’s land surveyors and I was instructed to learn today that our first President was, in fact, a land surveyor. I am taking my cue from Wilson Harris.
In his introduction to Wilson Harris’ essays, A.J.M. Bundy wrote:
“Harris experienced the interior of Guyana as a river and land surveyor in the 1940s. The interior speaks through a language of silence. The interior is also a living organism, an organism of forests, rocks, rivers and cataracts. The experience of the interior brought home to Harris that the picture we hold of reality and its reification in the conventional novel were unacceptably static. By continuing to believe them, we are actually damaging the fabric of the culture in ways that threaten our own survival.”
“I have expressed this unease in diverse and various ways through the fictions I have written. The life of the landscape, river-scape and sky-scape is pertinent to the reality of place. That life differs from the human life but is of invaluable importance.”
On this quite thoughtful and serene not, Mr. Speaker, and with the acceptance of the amendment, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) supports…
Mr. Speaker: That is in anticipation of the acceptance of the amendment.
Dr. Roopnarine: …anticipating the acceptance of the amendment, APNU will support the passage of the Land Surveyors Profession Bill 2014. [Applause]
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