The Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies 1950 - Present

The Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies (formerly know as the Co-operative Department) was established in 1950, to regulate Societies registered under the Co-operative Societies Act. The Co-operative Societies Act and its accompanying Regulations were promulgated in October, 1950.

In the early 1940's a spate of Co-operative Societies had been formed in various communities throughout Jamaica, as vehicles to combat poverty and other social defects affecting the broad mass of native Jamaicans. The most popular types were Buying Clubs, Thrift Societies, Agricultural and Marketing Co-operatives and Credit Unions.

During the era of the First World War most countries experienced shortages and the colonies, including Jamaica, were expected to be as self sustaining as possible, while "The Mother Country" fought for survival in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. Consequently, the Colonial Office enacted laws and the necessary bureaucratic arrangements to recognize and regulate the mushrooming Societies in several parts of the empire, later the British Commonwealth. The British Caribbean territories were very much a part of this arrangement, and most of what were to become the West Indies Federation had legislation similar to the Jamaica Co-operatives Societies Law of 1950.

As the legislation drew nearer to becoming a reality, some of the Credit Union leaders lobbied for the exclusion of their Societies from the jurisdiction of the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, in preference to the growing North American model. However in keeping with the other Caribbean Territories, Jamaica set up the Co-operative Department, with the responsibility to register viable Societies and groups as Co-operatives, including Credit Unions. It was also required to monitor their operations, with the intention of securing the interests of members of the Societies.

The Department was set up by an expatriate E. A. Surridge who had been exposed to co-operative development in India. Its first task was the selection and training of staff which was completed in approximately six (6) months with the Registrar being assisted by five (5) inspectors: R. T. Cousins, James Kir1ew, Asfon Bailey, Orville White and Rupert Gregory. In the late 1950's the Co-operative Department was expanded to include two Assistant Registrars, a number of Senior Co-operative Officers and Co-operative Officers.

In the eyes of the law it was the job of the Department to audit the accounts of the Societies. It reserved and exercised the right to conduct audits by the means of its own staff or to appoint external Auditors to audit Societies’ accounting records. It became the norm to handle the accounts of new Groups and the more knotty cases, and to assign others to external Auditors appointed by the registrar. Visits to the Societies to undertake internal audit were done and the staff submitted their reports, to the Registrar with copies sent to the relevant Societies, so that Societies could take the necessary steps to improve their operations.

The Department was also directly involved in the promotion of new Societies and in training of Co-operatives’ personnel, a function critical to the success of the Co-operatives. The training at that period was done in conjunction with the promotional bodies – The Jamaica Co-operative Credit Unions League, Jamaica Welfare and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).

By the mid 1950’s all newly registered Societies, including Credit Unions were registered under the Co-operative Societies Law. Co-operative Societies which had been formed prior to 1950 were registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act. In the years that followed, various agencies assisted the promotion and development of Co-operative groups, aided by subventions from Government. In the mid 1960's Fifteen (15) persons were added to the staff to undertake promotion activities with entities wishing to be registered as Co-operatives.

The Co-operative Development Centre was established in 1972 as an arm of the Department, with the following objectives:

  • Promotion and development of co-operative groups and Societies.

  • Research and planning.

  • Education and training of committees, management and staff of co-operative groups and Societies

In order to bring this about, the government received technical assistance from the Overseas Development Ministry (UK), the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Fund and the Dutch and Israel Governments. Efforts were concentrated in the development of Agricultural & other Producers Co-operatives such as:

  • Land Settlement Co-operatives

  • Marketing and Supplies Co-operatives

  • Collective Farming Co-operatives

  • Housing Co-operatives

  • Industrial & Craft Co-operatives

The period of the 1970s was characterized by massive state involvement in the promotion of Co-operative and Co-operative-like projects. The Socialist Government under Prime Minister Michael Manley embraced Co-operatives as a principal vehicle for economic and social transformation of the agricultural sector and other people of limited means. Hence, the Government embarked on a massive Agrarian Reform Project to transfer land to the landless and providing the settlers with the requisite financial and capital resources to facilitate their agricultural pursuits. However, that programme was dogged by various deficiencies and so the results did not live up to expectations.

That period also saw the exploration of converting government owned Sugar Farms into Sugar Workers Co-operatives. One pilot Co-operative was established on each of the Sugar Estates of Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge, with all categories of employees on those farms acquiring shares and ownership of the Co-operatives. All of the Pilot Co-operatives were successful in the first year of operation so the concept was replicated throughout the rest of the Estates. However, the support structure was unable to meet the increased demands of the simultaneous registration of 24 new Co-operatives on these Estates. Consequently, most of those Societies went into a general decline leading to an Order of Inquiry into their affairs, which resulted in the cancellation of their registration and eventual Liquidation.

The negatives associated with the failed Sugar Workers Co-operatives along with the shortcomings of some Producers & Services Co-operatives are among the major challenges hindering the growth and vibrancy of the Jamaican Co-operative Movement. Other factors inhibiting the growth of the Movement are:

  • Undercapitalization

  • Poor Management

  • Improper recordkeeping

  • Gerontocracy

  • Low literacy levels of some members and leader within the Producers & Services Co-operatives

The structure of the Department of Co-operatives was reconfigured in 1980 following the full integration of the Development Centre. Consequently, the functions of the DCFS are discharged through four (4) main Operational Centres (Sections), inclusive of Administration. The others are Research, training & Development; Audits & Investigations and Inspectorate.

The period since the 1990s can be characterized as the era of consolidation and improved corporate governance. During this period the DCFS embarked on a programme of transformation of itself to transform the Co-operative Movement to become more professional and proactive in its approach regarding the manner in which Societies conduct their affairs. Consequently, the Registrar of Co-operative Societies approved a number of criteria and standards developed by the Jamaican Co-operative Movement with assistance from the World Bank, World Council of Credit Unions, Inter-American Development Bank and the DCFS for implementation. These measures were designed to ensure safety and soundness within Co-operatives and to enhance transparency and accountability in Societies’ operations. Since then, the Movement has become more sensitive to members’ needs and the importance of protecting members’ investments.

The soundness of the Co-operative Movement was tested during the Financial Sector’s melt down of the 1990s. Not surprisingly, the Credit Union Movement did not suffer any losses, due largely to the monitoring systems that had been enforced by the DCFS and the Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League Limited.

Friendly Societies’ administration was assigned to the DCFS in 1990 and a human resources audit undertaken into the Department’s functions resulted in a reclassification and upgrading of the posts on the DCFS’ establishment. Presently, the DCFS has forty-two (42) posts on the Civil Service Establishment. These individuals are responsible to discharge all the functions pertaining to the registration and regulation of Societies registered under the Co-operative Societies act and the Friendly Societies Act.

Over the years the Department of Co-operatives has been supervised by various Ministries:-

  • 1950-1979 (March)       Ministry of Agriculture

  • 1979                            Ministry of Parliamentary and Regional Affairs

  • 1980-1991                    Ministry of Youth and Community Development

  • 1992-1995                    Ministry of Local Government, Youth and Community Development

  • 1995-1998                    Ministry of Local Government and Works

  • 1998-present                Ministry of Commerce & Technology (now Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce)

Roll call of Registrars:-

  • 1950-1951                    E. A. Surridge

  • 1951-1953                    J. S. Elliott

  • 1953-1956                    R. T. Cousins

  • 1957-1966                    G. C. L. Gordon

  • 1967-1974                    James Kirlew

  • 1975-1979                    M. L. Goulbourne

  • 1979-1983                    V. P. Smart

  • 1983-1986                    V. B. McFarlane

  • 1986-1988                    R. I. McLeod

  • 1988-2002                    Milburn B.  Corrie

  • 2002-present                Norman W. Gordon



Last Updated November 2007

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