The governments of the past fifty years have proved that the delivery of services was not their strong point

Dear Editor,

Imagine the astonishment in reading that, to be added to the several layers of inefficiency to which we subject ourselves, is the newly coined rule that birth certificates be less than six months of emission to be considered valid.

One fears the creature that came up with this rule. Has he or she studied nothing? Lived nowhere else? Regarded not the nations where this type of rule is routine?

It used to be so in France. The rule formed part of the armoury of a state apparatus long expert in the arts of domineering citizens with the rules of a bureaucracy known for its rigidities, absurdities, its roots in a feudal/monarchical order in which the state, in whatever incarnation, republican or aristocratic, exercised divine rights to the arbitrary application of incomprehensible rules in its own particular interests.

Birth certificates have still to be three months old in many cases. But the rule is built on an infrastructure that renders it applicable and excusable.

In France’s village council office or city and town hall you can get a birth certificate within hours. No lines, no waiting, no bribes, no having to cross rivers on antique steamers to witness a wizened clerk poring over handwritten parchment to find the original of your birth papers.

In short, the country in question is not ready for this rule as it has not been ready for many more.

Imagine that, as a Guyanese resident abroad, one would need a fresh birth certificate to apply for a passport. It is explained that neither kith nor kin of the applicant grace the shores of the green land any longer. No one there even to make the passport application.

“Get a friend or contact to apply for her,” the embassy official advises.

I was told that they have been petitioning Foreign Affairs to put in place a system where all papers could be obtained through the embassies.

The people at the consulate in New York under Mr Khan are efficient and friendly. In Brussels under de Freitas they are helpful, as is the staff in London. But they are impeded in their work by an infrastructure that was imagined in the fifties when immigration was a handful by steamer to London and the emigrant was, by the act itself, a sort of celebrity.

It is of an embarrassment that is unmentionable that, in applying to the helpful Brussels staff for a renewal of my Guyana passport, I was made to fill out a certain type of form. This is to say that for many years the primitives of the place refused to put the form on line to be downloaded. Then, on this form, which we request to tender in evidence, space is made to accommodate another timeless absurdity. I have to prove that doctor, attorney, parliamentarian or mayor knows me personally and testifies that I am known, alive, of sound morals, a citizen living within the boundaries of a self-restraint that renders him harmless – or whatever the testimony is supposed to communicate to the clerk in the passport office who checks on these things. In short, we are beyond shame in the degree of self-ridicule of which we are capable.

The governments of the past fifty years, the de-colonised minds who were supposed to be leading us, have proven one thing. A single thing. It is that delivery of services was not their strong point. The theatre of the hustings and drama of the protest march, the solemnities of the ceremonial openings of court and parliament, the sharing of corn to the favoured and friends, is what they became independent about.

The last elections hung on the flogging of public perceptions about corruption. The next has got to be about the assinine failure to deliver, to modernise, to imagine solutions to common problems, the refusal to prove that, finally, we are what they say we are.

Yours faithfully,
Abu Bakr

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