Administrator General’s Department awaits new legislation to clear huge backlog
THE Administrator General's Department is hoping to make a significant dent in the huge backlog of cases relating to the administration of estates this year, with the likely passage of an amendment to the Administrator General's Act in Parliament.
"A draft Bill is currently under review, and has been placed as a priority on the legislative agenda of the Ministry of Justice," said Administrator General and CEO of the Administrator General's Department (AGD) Lona Brown.
She was responding to yesterday's lead story in the Jamaica Observer, which highlighted sections of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis' 2012/13 audit report on the operations of her department.
The reported cited several failings, including:
* A huge backlog of 4,332 cases, dating back as many as 70 years, which could take another five years to be updated at the AGD's current pace of closures;
* An effort to reduce the backlog since 2009 had only resulted in a 19 per cent improvement, and left the department administering a total of 8,000 cases up to May last year; and
* Tenants occupying the estates owed some $22 million in arrears, which the AGD said was better than having the buildings to vandalised or occupied by squatters.
With respect to the backlog, Brown said it has been a perennial challenge, given the multi-generational nature of the estates, which often contain unregistered parcels of land.
"The department will be able to make a significant dent in these numbers when the Administrator General's Act is amended," she said. The process, she pointed out, was far advanced, adding that the implementation of the proposed amendments would assist in the closure of an increased number of files with multi-generational issues. The laws relating to Probate and Administration of Estates are also being reformed, Brown said.
She said that in relation to the matter of rental arrears, the AGD has 274 properties that are rented to 535 tenants, including beneficiaries. However, a significant number of these properties are in volatile and inner-city communities.
"The AGD, in many instances, has had to seek recourse through the courts and the assistance of bailiffs to ensure tenants meet their obligations. It is, therefore, incorrect to state that the department is not making any efforts to have tenants evicted. We are now pursuing legal action against over one hundred (100) tenants who are in arrears," she said.
But the administrator general said that, given the location and nature of a number of the communities in which the properties are situated, the department made the best decision to keep some properties tenanted rather than to pursue eviction, as the prospect of attracting new tenants with the ability to pay was virtually impossible.
"Also, if the properties are left unoccupied, they would likely be vandalised, which would be more disadvantageous to the beneficiaries," she explained.
Brown said that over the last three years the department disbursed $1.026 billion to beneficiaries, and more than 3,800 payments were made to beneficiaries between January to November 2013, totalling approximately $300 million. A further $100 million has been expended for the maintenance of the estates, during the same period.
She said, too, that the department continues to improve its systems by utilising technology such as the Trust and Estate Management Software, which the auditor general agreed was an urgent requirement for the department.
Brown, meanwhile, said her department was seeking to procure new software as it would further enhance the capacity of the organisation to process all aspects of estate administration.
BROWN... the department continues to improve its systems by utilising technology
AGD says recourse sought through courts to recover outstanding rent