Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019
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Newly elected bar association real estate chair: Land reform top priority

The newly elected chair of the Bahamas Bar Association’s real estate division, Sharlyn R. Smith, has vowed to use her post to address what she called “an urgent need for land reform and matters which impact land administration”.

Smith, who moved up from real estate vice chair in the 1,000-strong association of lawyers, has long been a proponent of land reform, including a system for land registration.

“We have not had any comprehensive changes in the laws related to the transfer of real property in over 100 years,” said Smith, a partner in Sharon Wilson & Co. “We have had laws relating to condominiums and timeshare, but we have not addressed the fundamental way in which we transfer real property rights in The Bahamas. Sometimes a buyer feels like she has to be an athlete to complete the journey of purchasing a single-family residence or duplex.

It is not anyone’s intention to make it difficult, but remedying it is a matter of updating antiquated parts of the system and improving on land administration.

“There are many factors that impact land administration,” said Smith, who has served on numerous public and private boards dealing with land matters. “I am eager to use this term to help facilitate improvements to the efficiency of land administration while addressing the need for modern land legislation. We would like to make property transactions less burdensome and property rights more secure.”

The road to change, she said, will involve reaching out to numerous stakeholders including the Bahamas Investment Authority, the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the Department of Inland Revenue and the Supreme Court’s civil registry.

“We in many ways are a sophisticated international financial center and yet for some reason our land laws have not kept pace. Attempts to gain information to complete a document or transaction are more challenging than they need to be, so I’m excited about the changes I believe we at the Bar Association can help to bring about,” she said.

Called to the Bar of The Bahamas in 1998, Smith received a bachelors of law degree, with honors, from the University of Reading, Reading, England, and a Masters in International Business Law from the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC, and has spent her professional career focused on land matters. She has twice addressed the Bahamas Business Outlook on matters related to land, sat on numerous panels related to land matters and was appointed to chair a private sector committee to review practices at the Registrar General’s Department. Smith was also a government consultant on the Planning and Subdivision Bill.

“There are issues related to the transfer of property that I believe we can remedy. My goal will be to make it less burdensome to transfer land and to improve the state of landholding and thus contribute to national development,” said the attorney who has contributed to Bahamian society personally in many ways. Smith is vice chairman of the Catholic Board of Education, president of the Nassau Chapter of Links Incorporated and is a former director of Marathon Bahamas and The Bahamas AIDS Foundation. She will remain chair of the Bar Association’s real estate committee until summer 2020.

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