PACRA Board Chairman, some board members and technocrats from PACRA management team undertook a tour to New Zealand’s Companies Registry from 27th to 29th March 2012.
The visit was undertaken within the context of the Agency’s modernization and decentralization programme encapsulated in its Strategic Plan for the period 2011 to 2015. The objective was to familiarize and review the New Zealand Companies registration system with a view to learn from the best country in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ – Starting a Business category.
As such, the study visit was intended to benchmark as well as expose operatives (management) and policy makers (board members) to international best practices in business registration as the Agency maps a way forward in the improvements of its registration system.
The study tour revealed a number of strategies employed by the New Zealand Companies Office that could be applied to the Zambian situation to enhance PACRA’s operations.
Right from the beginning of the systems enhancement project, the New Zealand Companies Office set up an e-business team whose role was to educate clients on the services offered by the office and how to access them. They conducted their training through seminars and workshops throughout the country.
Furthermore, the New Zealand Companies Office set up a contact centre where clients are helped through phone communication. The contact centre has set very high standards of service which are continuously monitored by supervisors to ensure that they adhere to the ISO certification they have been granted.
New Zealand is ranked 1st in the 2011 and 2012 ‘Starting a Business’ survey and 3rd on the overall ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking. Zambia, on the other hand, was ranked 69th on ‘Starting a Business’ and 84th on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking. Both Zambia and New Zealand are common law jurisdictions. Further, the current Zambian Companies Act Chapter 388 of 1994 borrowed heavily from the New Zealand Companies law at the time.
New Zealand operates an electronic registration system and is arguably the first registry to introduce full electronic company incorporation. It introduced internet searches in 1996 (arguably the first to have exposed company information on the internet in 1996), online company incorporation in 1998, online annual return filing in 2000 and was linked to the revenue authority’s database in 2005.
In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Neville Harris, the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Development and Registrar of Companies, disclosed that the Companies Office was regarded as the leading government Agency in the use of Information Technology in the country. Following the introduction of online registration, it merged its three offices in to one and transferred most of the staff to back-office functions in support of the online registrations. They get their customer support from the Contact Centre which also serves other Government Ministries and Agencies.
He further disclosed that to enhance compliance and improve on the integrity of the data they hold, they conducted a re-registration exercise. They did this to clean up the database by removing dormant companies. During this exercise they waived all annual return and registration fees. The Zambian delegation also visited Foster Moore, a company specialized in registration systems and credited for the success the New Zealand Companies Office enjoys.
The New Zealand companies database contains 560, 000 companies. About 30,000 companies are de-registered annually.
The strides the New Zealand Companies Office has made in registration are attributed to its philosophy of viewing itself not so much as a regulator but as a facilitator to economic development. The Office repositioned from ‘controlling’ businesses to ‘helping’ them grow. As a consequence, it has consistently been voted the most helpful government agency for the past few years.
In New Zealand, while the system automatically undertakes the initial scrutiny of proposed company names, staff in the back office physically examine the suitability of proposed company names. Measures to enhance compliance with legal requirements include Short Messaging Service (SMS) alerts and electronic reminders. A company is de-registered if it fails to comply with the reminder notices.
The PACRA Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Anthony Bwembya, thereafter outlined details of the Agency’s modernization and decentralization programmes, on-going systems, legal and structural reforms and the challenges being faced. He cited lack of infrastructure, the relatively underdeveloped electronic payment system, the dominant informal economy and ineffective insolvency laws as key challenges for Zambia.