COVID-19 Pandemic Had Turbulent Effect on the Registrar General’s Department in 2020

(BIS Photo/Carlyle Sands)

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senator the Hon. Carl W. Bethel stated that the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, had a turbulent effect on the Registrar General’s Department. Prior to the start of the pandemic, the recording of deeds and documents was done in 14 days — with a goal of lessening that time — the Attorney General said in his remarks at ceremonies to mark the beginning of the 2021 Legal Year (which was modified due to COVID-19 Pandemic protocols). The ceremonies took place
at Rawson Square on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

“Unfortunately, due to the mandated closures of the Department as a result of the lockdowns and the implementation of the shift system, the time has increased to in excess of eight weeks. He said, “In all Ministries and businesses, the rollout of services has had to be adjusted. The Registrar General’s Department was no exception. Consequently, during the lockdowns the Department implemented an email system for the submission of Company and Intellectual Property applications.”

The Attorney General stated that when the Department resumed “normal business” on 29th June 2020 the email system remained in place along with the implementation of a drop box service for Companies, IP, Deeds and Documents and Marriage Duplicate Registers. He added that birth registration, death and marriage certificates and marriage licence services are now accessed by appointment. “These measures were put in place for the safety of the staff and customers and we ask the public to respect
these new policies.”

The Attorney General said in May 2020 it was discovered that the Department’s AS400 system that houses the civil and corporate registries had been breached in October 2019. In response to the attacks, the Department of Transformation and Digitization, along with the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), Cloud Caribe Ltd. and Registrar General’s Department immediately collaborated to improve security at the Registrar General’s Department.

“This included the reconfiguration of existing hardware components to ensure that external users could no longer directly access RGD servers. Forty-five computers with obsolete operating systems were removed from the network. The computers in the Registrar General’s Office in Grand Bahama were also upgraded.”

He explained that password policies have been strengthened and user profiles of both internal and external clients have been reviewed, and improved access controls put in place. The Attorney General stated that in July 2020, IBM was engaged to undertake an assessment of the software and hardware in the network in tandem with penetration testing by IDB Consultants. As a result IBM made 35 observations/findings with accompanying recommendations; 80 percent of the critical recommendations have been implemented to date.

He said remediation activities are ongoing and the Registry’s systems are being upgraded in phases. “We are in the process of hardening the environment to reduce vulnerabilities thereby making the systems, including the applications, more secure.”
Minister Bethel said in November 2020 in conjunction with the Department of Transformation and Digitization, the Registrar General’s Department launched a pilot project, which allowed the public to apply for birth, death and marriage certificates online. “There have been some hiccups along the way, but I am advised that it is scheduled to go live on 25th January 2021.”