The Guyana Police Force has opted to remain silent on criticisms of its failure over seven years to update the birth certificate criteria for the issue of machine readable passports.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday said since the machine-readable passports were introduced, the force failed to implement a requirement that birth certificates used for first time applicants be issued within six months of the application. The machine readable passports were introduced in August of 2007.
Several efforts were made to contact Chief Immigration Officer Seelall Persaud on the issue but without success.
The Home Ministry on Wednesday indicated that a requirement for a birth certificate to have been issued within two years of an application for a first passport had been scrapped. An earlier requirement for a birth certificate issued within six months of the passport application had also been withdrawn in the midst of litigation by attorney Saphier Husain, who challenged the legality of the new requirement. Judgment was made in his favour last week.
In announcing the discontinuation of the new requirement, the ministry said that with the introduction of the machine-readable passport system, it had required that the Guyana Police Force to implement an arrangement where members of the public applying for passports for the first time would present birth certificates that were issued not more than six months prior to the date of the application. “Unfortunately this arrangement was not implemented by the Guyana Police Force, as required by the Ministry of Home Affairs,” it noted.
Stabroek News had received this same information prior to this disclosure and attempted to make contacted with Persaud, who is also the acting police commissioner, but was unsuccessful. A visit to his office was made on Tuesday but this newspaper was told that he was in office but would be unavailable until Thursday. Arrangements were made for the office to make contact with the reporter with information on an appropriate time. This information was not forthcoming and when contact was made with the office on Thursday, the person who this newspaper had to speak with was unavailable.
During a visit to the Central Immigration and Passport Office on Tuesday, Stabroek News was told that the person in charge was on annual leave and all questions on the issue should be directed to Persaud.
In light of the revelation that the police are to be blamed, questions are now being raised as to why it took seven years for the ministry to recognise that its directive was not being obeyed.
The ministry has stated too that the requirement was to guarantee the integrity of the machine-readable passport system. However, it is still unclear as to how this is to happen and what security features have since been introduced.
Stabroek News was reliably informed that making the birth certificates tamper proof was to have been a joint effort between the police force and the General Register Office. The General Register Office was also visited on Tuesday but when approached Registrar General Greta McDonald refused to speak saying “I can’t speak to Stabroek News. Speak to my minister or the PS at the ministry.”
The ministry has now returned to the old system for passport applications, requiring a birth certificate, a passport size picture, and a $4,000 fee with the application. The only difference now is that it may take longer than five days for the travel document to be issued, since “a more robust verification process” will be needed, according to the ministry.
The initial requirement for a birth certificate to be issued within six months of the passport application was met with heavy criticisms and this increased even when the timeframe was extended to two years several weeks later. The requirements had been a great inconvenience to dozens of persons, including those travelling from out of town areas as well as Guyanese living abroad who tried to apply for new passports.