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Why Construction Liens Should Be Adopted In Nigeria

Construction liens are legal claims for money expended or unpaid compensation filed by a contractor or other professional on a building or design. This is done by filing a public notice on a property stating that the owner of the property owes the contractor a stated sum of money. It can also be filed by a subcontractor or materials supplier for any work done on a building.

The purpose of a construction lien is to serve as an encumbrance on the property upon which a lien is filed. It also gives notice to a bonafide purchaser for value that there is an unpaid sum outstanding to the contractor, subcontractor, materials supplier or other professional. It may prevent interested purchasers from purchasing the property until the unpaid sum is liquidated.

Benefits of a Construction Lien

When a Construction lien has been effectively filed, it acts as an encumbrance on the property and any third party who goes ahead to buy the property obtains title subject to the lien. It prevents the sale or refinance of the property because a prudent purchaser or mortgagor will not want to obtain a property that has a lien on it. The lien helps contractors, sub-contractors, material suppliers and other professional to quickly resolve payment problems.

Constructive lien also gives the holder of the lien an equitable interest in the property because failure of the property owner to clear the outstanding debt can grant the lien holder the right to foreclose the property after a period of time.

Furthermore, when the lien is placed, it hastens the property owner’s decision to clear the unpaid sums. It is an additional remedy granted to contractors in addition to the right to sue for a breach of contract. Nevertheless liens are not absolute; a property owner who is disputing the sum claimed can challenge the lien in Court.

Other Jurisdictions

Construction lien in its modern form originated in the United States of America after it was introduced by Thomas Jefferson to encourage the construction of Washington. Today, it is applicable in all states in US and a lot of developed countries like England, France and Canada. However, Countries in Latin America and United Arab Emirates specifically prohibit the lien except where the parties voluntarily adopt it as binding on them.

Current Situation

Construction liens are strictly regulated by statutes. Unless there is a law stipulating its procedure it can generally not be applied. In Nigeria, construction liens are generally not applicable due to the absence of a statute enacting it. Given the benefits of the concept of construction liens, one wonders why Nigeria, a country growing at a tremendous rate, where real estate is on the rise has not adopted this concept which seeks to protect the contractor while encouraging economic development.

Furthermore, the Nigerian judicial system is slow and before unpaid contractors can recover their money, a lot of productive time may have been wasted. There is also the issue of the depreciating value of our naira which stalls economic growth and development.

Another consideration is the number of people involved in the construction business who actually need protection and prompt payments; these include bricklayers, architects, quantity surveyors, materials suppliers, engineers etc.

Escaping the Current Situation

There are instances where contractors can take advantage of construction liens. An example is where a right of a contractor to a construction lien is expressly stated in the construction contract. This is advisable because it guarantees the contractor payment for his labour and expenditure.

Another instance is approaching the Court to place a lien or encumbrance on the property. This will usually be done by filing a suit for breach of contract claiming for the unpaid fees. The contractor can ask for an interlocutory or perpetual order of the court, placing a lien on the property to prevent the property owner from disposing it or mortgaging it until the unpaid sums or Judgment sums are liquidated.

Since the Court has discretion on whether or not to grant the remedy of placing a lien on the property, it is advisable that contractors should insist on a construction lien clause being part of the construction contract. This is because it is settled Nigerian law that parties are bound by their agreement.

The Way forward

Construction lien is a creation of statute and to effectively utilise it in Nigeria, our legislators need to promulgate a law recognising and enforcing it or amend our existing real property and construction laws in Nigeria to accommodate it.

The benefits of construction liens are numerous and a developing Country like Nigeria needs to use the concept to its benefits. This will curb the excesses of recalcitrant property owners who wish to take advantage of the loopholes in the Nigerian legal system to deliberately refuse to pay sums owed by them to professionals who constructed the property.

The LGPD and labour relations in Brazil

Non-observance of the LGPD (General Data Protection Law) will give rise to administrative sanctions imposed by the National Data Protection Authority as from August 2021, as determined by article 20 of Law 14.010, which modified the text of article 65 of Law 13.079.

In spite of this, many authorities are already imposing or seeking to impose penalties for failure to comply with the LGPD and are taking court action in this respect. Moreover, there is nothing to prevent data subjects from claiming compensation in court, as well as coercive measures to enforce compliance with the LGPD.

In the context of labour relations, the LGPD is firmly present in the three stages (pre-contractual, contractual and post-contractual), although there are no specific regulations in this respect. Apart from the direct relationship between the company, the candidates for job vacancies offered and its own employees, the LGPD is also present in relations with the employees of outsourced companies.

For the reasons set out in the preceding paragraph, companies must adapt as soon as possible, creating procedures and policies, adjusting their work contracts and agreements for services with independent contractors, training and instructing their work force regarding the law and the care necessary in the treatment of data, thereby avoiding the formation of administrative and judicial liability and the exposure of their name, brand and reputation.

At the pre-contract stage, companies will have to adjust their recruitment and selection processes, deciding whether resumes not used are to be discarded or kept in their database for future vacancies, obtaining, in the latter case, the express consent of the candidate to do so. The companies must also consider that the recruitment and selection processes may be subject to investigation by the competent authorities and/or judicial discussion by these same persons or by the candidate himself, and, in this respect, the treatment of candidates’ data may constitute evidence for their defence, the regular exercise of rights.

In the course of the employment relationship, the applicability of the LGPD is vast, since the employer is obliged to provide personal as well as sensitive data of its employees in order to comply with legal obligations, such as for the E-social, for the DCTFWeb, for the CAT, for the obligatory Occupational Health and Safety Programmes, for the labour inspectors of the Special Secretariat of Social Security and Labour and of the Federal Revenue, unions and class entities, among others.

The employer uses the data of its employees, also, in order to comply with contractual obligations, such as for the provision of benefits, health and life insurance, agreements in general with other companies etc., constituting, therefore, the regular exercise of rights, which strictly exempts it from obtaining the express consent of the employee, provided of course that such benefits are in the latter’s interests or result from a regulatory provision.

The employer may also be obliged to use such data in administrative or judicial proceedings, as determined by the supervisory body or judge, in which case authorisation to supply such information from the employee is not required, since this undoubtedly constitutes a regular exercise of a right.

In the event of an occupational accident or health problems that justify the adoption of measures by the employer for the protection of the life and physical safety of the data subject, in this case, the employee, the company will also have to use his data.

It is essential to mention, if only briefly, the matter of the employee’s consent, since a trend of opinion has already been formed on this point, not only in Brazil, but also abroad, to the effect that it is inapplicable, as a rule, to employment relationships, given the worker’s situation of “hypo-sufficiency” (the weaker party). On this subject, we will express our views in further detail in a future article.

On termination of the employment, the employer should, strictly speaking, eliminate the personal data of its employee, since their purpose has been achieved or they are no longer necessary. However, considering that many of these data may be subject to analysis by the Brazilian authorities and/or constitute evidence in legal proceedings that may be brought against the company, including by the employee himself, they may be stored, for compliance with legal obligations or the regular exercise of rights, for the period in which they may be required; these are situations that, we repeat, do not require consent of the data subject.

The retention period could, in principle, be standardised according to the two-year and five-year limitation periods that apply to the employment relationship. However, there are situations that may exceed these periods, such as cases of accidents at work (including professional and occupational diseases) and death of a worker leaving minor heirs, matters which should be considered when the employer sets the parameters for the storage and destruction of data.

These are the initial observations of our labour team regarding the impact of the LGPD on labour relations. We will continue to produce material on the subject, as there will be many challenges to be faced in the near future.

Maria Lúcia Menezes Gadotti
Partner in Labour Law Area – São Paulo
[email protected]

Practical Completion and Defect Liability Period Under Nigerian Law

Though the date of practical completion is of great importance to a building project, it does not have a unanimous definition. Generally, the date of practical completion is not merely the date in which the Client takes over possession of the building. In fact, practical completion may be achieved without the Client taking over physical possession of the building.

Technically and legally, practical completion is the date when the responsibility of insurance, security and maintenance of the building passes from the Contractor to the Client; the Client pays the contract retention sum to the Contractor and the defect liability period begins to run.

A Construction Agreement may provide for practical completion of a building or it may be inferred from the conduct of the parties or deemed upon the happening of an event. The defect liability period is a period for the Contractor to rectify the latent defects it discovers in the building or brought to his attention by the architect or Client’s agent on the building project.

Practically, the date of practical completion of the building is the date in which the works are reasonably ready for its intended use even though there may be outstanding snags or defects. In essence, practical completion is achieved where construction is completed and there are no patent defects in the construction of the building.

It is easier to ascertain the date of practical completion where the Construction Agreement clearly spells out same. Most Construction Agreements usually provide for the architect or the Client’s agent on the project to issue a Certificate confirming practical completion of the works under the Agreement. But what happens where there is no Agreement defining the date or medium to signal practical completion or the architect or Client’s agent on the project refuses to issue a Certificate of practical completion of the construction works in the building even though same has been achieved?

In such an instance, practical completion would be deemed from the intention of the parties which can be inferred from their conducts. For instance, if the Contractor informs the architect or Client’s agent on the project that he has completed the construction works and the architect or Client’s agents submits a list of latent defects on the project to the Contractor, practical completion is deemed to have taken place and the defect liability period shall begin from that date.

Upon completion of the rectification works submitted to the Contractor by the architect or Client’s agent, the defects liability period shall come to an end and the Contractor will ordinarily not be liable to carry out further maintenance works on the building.

However, where there are patent defects on the project, it is the responsibility of the Contractor to rectify the patent defects on the building before practical completion will be deemed and the defect liability period begins. For instance if Mr Tanko Ahmed employ Main Construction Limited to construct a 4 storey building and upon completion of construction, the parties discover that the walls are cracked or the ceilings are licking, Main Construction Limited would have to effectively rectify the cracked walls and licking ceilings before practical completion will be deemed and the defect liability period would begin.

Again where there is no Agreement on the duration of the defect liability period, it may be deemed from the conducts of the parties. For instance, if upon practical completion, the Client informs the Contractor that he will take over possession of the project after the rainy season. The rainy season constitutes the defect liability period. The end of the rainy season signifies the expiration of the defect liability period and the Contractor will no longer be liable to carry out maintenance works on the building.

This is because the Contractor cannot maintain the building project indefinitely. Even the law does not expect that. In such a circumstance, after the rainy season, the Contractor should advise the Client to immediately take possession of the building because practical completion of the building has been achieved and the defect liability period has ended. The Contractor is legally entitled to withdraw from the building and send the keys of the building to the architect or Client’s agent.

Alternatives for restructuring of intercompany debts

The continued devaluation of the Real has increased the total indebtedness of Brazilian subsidiaries of foreign groups that incurred debts in foreign currency, particularly in relation to the U.S. dollar and the Euro, and these subsidiaries are now seeking ways of restructuring the debts to their parent companies. Such devaluation may cause very serious impacts, affecting financial results and possibly making the debts unpayable.

It is a fact that there has been a significant positive variation of the U.S. dollar in relation to the Real in the last few years. By way of example, the average annual dollar/real rate in 2015 was approximately R$ 3,34 and the average partial annual rate for 2020 calculated up to July 31, 2020 was R$ 4,98 , the rate today being more than R$ 5,60. In view of this scenario, the need has arisen to discover what action permissible under Brazilian law may be taken to restructure intercompany foreign currency debts, in order to reduce risks and negative impacts related to the exchange variation for the Brazilian subsidiaries.

For an analysis of such action, we have separated the debts, by their nature, into three groups: loans, importations and other types of debt.

As far as the first group is concerned, namely foreign currency loans, the principal amount and interest may be converted into a direct investment, whereby the total amount due will be converted into quotas or shares in the Brazilian debtor company, by establishment or increase of the creditor’s equity interest in the said company. However, in relation to this group it must be borne in mind that loans converted into direct investment in a period of less than 180 days from the date of entry of the funds will be subject to IOF (tax on financial operations) at the rate of 6%, plus penalty and interest from the date of entry of the funds into the country, whereas loans made and converted over longer periods will benefit from a zero rate for the same operation, pursuant to article 15-B, items XI and XII of Decree 6.306/07.

It is important to note that for any symbolic foreign exchange operation, whether of the type now referred to or any other described in the legislation such as those below, the rate of IOF on the exchange is also reduced to zero rather than the usual 0.38%, in accordance with article 15-B, item XVIII of Decree 6.306/07.

It must also be pointed out that the total amount of interest, if converted into capital, will be subject to the withholding income tax at the rate of 15%, since the conversion is regarded as being a form of payment of the obligation.

Also in relation to loans, if the conversion into capital is not a feasible alternative, but it is intended even so to avoid the risk of the foreign exchange variation, there is the possibility of switching to Reais the foreign currency applicable to the loan.

Another operation that merits attention for the purpose of restructuring debts in foreign currency involves importations, which may be converted into a loan, preferably with a change of currency into Reais, since the intention is to eliminate the risk of foreign exchange variation, or into direct investment.

For conversion of debts incurred on importation into a loan in local currency, it is necessary for the creditor formally to express its intention of doing so by means of a declaration, stating that the amount of the loan will be in Reais, to be calculated at the moment of the simultaneous exchange operations. Special attention should be paid to the incidence of IOF, the ideal solution being that the loan in question stipulate a repayment term of at least 181 days from the conversion, in which case a zero rate will be applied.

Conversion of the importation into direct investment may take place at any time by means of a declaration by the creditor and acceptance by the debtor, resulting in simultaneous symbolic foreign exchange operations.

As regards other foreign debts of an unspecified nature, these may be converted into a loan or direct investment, in the same way as importations, since any obligation that involves payment abroad may be converted, the only requirement being a formal statement by the creditor to that effect. However, it should be noted that some operations involving certain debts may give rise to the incidence of taxes as a result of their nature and must be considered specifically for the purpose of conversion. In this connection it must always be borne in mind that the exchange on sale of foreign currency on the conversion, the first leg of the symbolic operation, gives rise to the same effect as in the case of actual repayment.

It should be mentioned that the figures resulting from the conversions will be calculated in accordance with the exchange rates on the date of the symbolic operations for the conversion rather than the historic value of the debts in any of the cases above.

In relation to debts that are not capable of registration under the foreign exchange legislation, and cannot therefore be the subject-matter of a symbolic exchange operation for conversion, in accordance with Law no. 11.371/06, there is still the possibility of conversion into direct investment with the registration of so-called “contaminated” capital, which, although feasible, must be considered with great care.

Finally, before carrying out any restructuring of foreign currency debts, it is necessary to confirm that the information lodged with the Central Bank of Brazil is up to date, and also to consider from the group structural viewpoint the best option to be adopted.

Deborah Henriques Grasmann de Carvalho and Adolpho Smith de Vasconcellos Crippa

Associate lawyer and Partner in Company Law Area – São Paulo

[email protected] and [email protected]

Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership under the Companies Act

By Craig Douglas Oyugi, Partner at Africa Law Partners. A short summary of the salient issues arising out of the Companies (Beneficial Ownership Information) Regulations 2020.

Introduction

The Companies Act, 2015 (the Principal Act) was amended by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017 (Amendment Act) to include, amongst other things, the concept of “beneficial ownership” by including section 93A of the Principal Act. The Amendment Act establishes a register in order to record the information of beneficial ownership and control of Kenyan companies. The Companies (Beneficial Ownership Information) Regulations (the Regulations) were promulgated under Legal Notice 12 of 2020. The concept of beneficial ownership was established as part of Kenya’s efforts to battle corruption and increase transparency in the ownership and control of legal entities.

The Companies Registry of Kenya recently issued a notice stating the operationalisation of the beneficial ownership registry from 13 October 2020.

The effect of registering a “beneficial owner” has numerous implications across different spheres of practice. The following commentary aims to outline these effects in practice.

Who is a Beneficial Owner?

A beneficial owner under the Regulations must be a natural person and not a legal person. In order to be classified as a Beneficial Owner, a natural person must:

  • holds at least ten per cent (10%) of the issued shares in the company either directly or indirectly;
  • exercise at least ten per cent (10%) of the voting rights in the company;
  • hold a right to directly or indirectly appoint or remove a director of the company; or
  • exercise significant influence or control over the company.

This definition includes persons who may hold significant influence or control as a result of a variety of commercial arrangements or instruments such as provisions in the company’s constitutional documents, the rights attached to the shares or securities which a person holds, shareholder agreements or other agreements resulting in giving such person(s) material influence over the company and its affairs.

Obligations of a Company

The Regulations place the following obligations on companies:

      1. A company shall take reasonable steps to identify its beneficial owners and enter their details into a register of beneficial owners which is different from the register of members;

      2. The following information will be included in the register of beneficial owners;

         a. the full name;

         b. full name;

         c. birth certificate number (where applicable);

         d. national identity card number or passport;

         e. Kenya Revenue Authority personal identification number (where applicable);

         f. nationality;

         g. date of birth;

         h. postal, business and residential address;

         i. telephone number;

         j. email address;

         k. occupation;

         l. nature of ownership or control; and

         m. date on which a person became a beneficial owner.

      3. The Regulations require a company to file with the Registrar of Companies (the Registrar), within 30 days of preparation, a copy of the company’s register of beneficial owners. Furthermore, if there is any change in the composition of the company’s beneficial ownership, these changes shall be made on the register of beneficial ownership and filed with the Registrar as soon as the change occurs.

      4. Where a company believes that a person is a beneficial owner it is the company’s duty to investigate and notify the potential beneficial owner. Once notified, the beneficial owner must furnish their particulars within (21) days, failure to which the company must issue a “warning.”

      5. Once a warning has been registered against a beneficial owner’s interest and the beneficial owner persists in omitting their particulars a restriction is placed on the beneficial owner’s interest in the company and is registered in the company’s beneficial ownership register as well as with the Registrar.

Restrictions

The net effect of a restriction on a beneficial owner’s interest in a company is the inability to transact or benefit from the proceeds of their interest in the company. In practice, the restriction against a beneficial owners interests would mean that;

      (i) the beneficial owner would not be able to exercise any rights in respect of their interest;

      (ii) the beneficial owner would not be able to transfer their interest in the company; and

      (iii) no payments from the company can be made to the Beneficial Owner as a result of their interest.

Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership and Data Protection

Although companies have a duty to gather information regarding beneficial ownership, its disclosure is limited to the beneficial owner, the company and the Registrar. It must be noted that the information is not public information, and as such cannot be disclosed for the general public’s consumption. The company is prohibited from disclosing information gathered from a beneficial owner save for if the disclosure is;

      (i) required by the Regulations;

      (ii) for effecting communication with the beneficial owner;

      (iii) in compliance with a court order; or with

      (iv) the written consent of the beneficial owner.

Disclosure of information provided by a beneficial owner in any manner other than in compliance with the Regulations is punishable by a fine not exceeding Kenya Shillings twenty thousand (KES 20,000) or imprisonment for six (6) months or both.

Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership and Nominee or Trustee Shareholding

Companies, for a variety of reasons, have had interests of shareholders held through nominees and trust arrangements. In order to comply with the Regulations, companies will need to disclose who the beneficial owner under a nominee arrangement is and who the ultimate beneficiary is under a trust arrangement. In these instances, the beneficial owner would be the person that derives the true economic benefit from the legal interest in the company.

Conclusion

Transparency in the beneficial ownership of companies in Kenya is a reality. This will inevitably have an effect on ownership through nominees and trust arrangements. This poses additional considerations when structuring transactions where the non-disclosure of a beneficial owner is key. This would need careful consideration, on a case by case basis of the optimal structure to adopt.

Should you require any more information or assistance kindly contact Craig Douglas Oyugi or Samuel Mwendwa Kisuu.

This alert is for general use only and should not be relied upon without seeking specific legal advice on any matter.

Extension of Time in Construction Contracts

An Extension of Time (EOT) is a clause in most of construction contracts offering the contractor the possibility to extend the construction period when a delay occurs. That delay must not be the contractor’s fault but caused by a distinct relevant event. There is a wide variety of events that could potentially disrupt a construction process and entitle the contractor to an EOT. Some relevant events are frequent, like failure to provide information, variations, or delay in giving the contractor possession of the site. Other relevant events are rare and rather unpredictable in the long term, like civil unrest, exceptionally adverse weather, or war.

When a delay happens or is about to happen, the contractor has to give written notice to the consultant/client. Such notice must clearly identify the relevant event responsible for the delay, as well as prove the causality between the disrupting force and the delay itself. If the other party shares the same view on what caused the delay, they usually grant the EOT and adjust the completion date accordingly. The completion date is a vital temporal landmark in the life of a construction project. Such a date establishes a clear limit for the main scope of works included in the contract to be completed.

EOT requests have to be thoroughly prepared before submission to maximise clarity and facilitate agreement. After identifying the responsible relevant event, the contractor has to link it to the contract clause that allows for the request. However, that is not always enough. The construction project can deviate from the baseline programme produced at the start of the contract, without that programme being updated to account for drops in productivity. In that case, the contractor might have difficulties separating delays occurring from its own fault from delays related to the relevant event. Besides causality, the claim for extension should also address liability. In other words, the contractor provides proof that they fully understand their responsibilities. Often, EOT requests have to be submitted in a certain time window to retain their validity.

Successful claims are reliant on good practices regarding documenting the delays. The contractor should be able to record when and why the relevant event occurred and output a list of resources, tasks, and activities that it directly or indirectly affected. It helps to have proof of all actions or alternative solutions taken to minimise the delay, as well as quantify all associated costs. Once all the available information is gathered, the contractor deploys a Delay Analysis meant to estimate the impact on the project completion date. Construction contracts are generally geared on allowing the construction period to be extended when the contractor has no fault in the delay and has formulated an EOT application. However, not all claims are successful. An application can be rejected when it is proven that the contractor has actually underperformed. Judging claims for extensions of time is more complicated when concurrent delays occur. For example, a contractor already not keeping up with the programme due to a force outside their control (excusable delay) might also have been the cause for a different delay (inexcusable) where both of these delays’ effects are felt simultaneously. Usually, in this case, the contractor would claim for an EOT award and avoid paying liquidated damages while the owner is relieved from compensating the contractor for its prolongation costs.