Why the long wait for birth, death and marriage certificates?

Dear Editor,

I have applied several times on behalf of poor residents in my community and also for members of my church for birth, death and marriage certificates, but the wait is very long. I applied for some birth, death and marriage certificates last year in the post, but only received a few of those.

If a person has never been registered, the Registrar at the General Register Office (GRO) should send me a card saying that the person’s record cannot be found. However, I received no such card after sending in the applications. In an age where modern technology is on the increase, I don’t think one should wait more than one week or three days to get a birth certificate from GRO.

I gave some of the applicants their receipt, and even filled out a new form for them to go and apply for their certificates directly at the GRO, but they never heard a word in the mail. As a result of the slow processing of birth certificates, perhaps thousands of our Guyanese citizens have been unable to register for their new identification cards and thought they could not vote at the recent elections.

Why is it that birth, death and marriage certificates are taking months and even years to be processed at the GRO? It seems as if there is a lot of incompetence at that institution. In addition to the people who have been waiting for their birth certificates for over a year, I know of many who had old birth certificates and who are now told that they were never registered. A late birth registration now takes 6 months and tons of paper work and documentation that costs a lot. The cost for one birth certificate just a year ago was just $30 and now it’s $300, an increase of 100%, yet the process takes longer.

We can no longer trust the mail since post can be lost, damaged, or go to a wrong lot number. Worse yet, not many homes have a mail box and many residents work and are not at home. So why are the staff at GRO telling our citizens who have waited hours for their birth, marriage, and death certificates that ‘’You will get it in the mail’’? What makes it so hard to give it to them right there? It’s very sad that many people who have to sign these documents are never in the office or come to work extremely late or hardly ever work. I have been to several other offices in Guyana for documents, and have been told that the person who has to sign the document is not in the office, although that same person can be seen ‘gaffing’ around the compound but is still getting paid for a job they are incapable of doing.

I am not the only person who is faced with this problem; there are thousands of Guyanese experiencing the same thing because the lines for these documents are getting longer and longer every day, and some have to resort to bribery to obtain these certificates.

Amerindians are given first preference to obtain birth certificates through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, so why is it that Indians and Africans and others are given such a hard time?

I am also concerned about the bad handwriting on these certificates. Most times an M looks like an N or an I like a J, or an O like a Q thus giving applicants completely different names. When these are queried they are told that’s exactly how it’s shown in the old books written down years ago, although sometimes they copy the names incorrectly. I am also flabbergasted at the dates on these certificates; often they’re a long scratch or are completely omitted.

The signatures on these certificates are also a long scratch. I believe the names and dates on certificates should be clearly written; if a signature is a scratch then the name of the person signing the certificate should be printed at the bottom. That is one reason why many birth, death and marriage certificates are rejected by immigration. We need updated birth, marriage and death certificates with typed names and visible signatures, dates and a seal to avoid forgery. The certificate size should be bigger because people with 4 or 5 names cannot fit these into the small lines.

I note with interest the register office in Georgetown is open Monday to Thursday from 8-12 noon, so those travelling from Berbice, Essequibo, Linden and all over Guyana going upstairs to query and uplift birth certificates in the afternoon are told to go home and come the next day. Worse yet, they don’t work on Fridays. I am still trying to figure out why they work just 4 half days in the week and don’t work on Fridays, yet we still wait months, even years to get these certificates in the mail.

In particular, as a marriage officer I am faced with the long wait for marriage certificates. Just about two years ago when I married a couple I would register the marriage and apply for the marriage certificate at the same time. I would be given a slip to obtain the marriage certificate in a week, which I would get. Now they have a new requirement that when I register a marriage I have to go downstairs and apply for the person’s marriage certificate or the person will have to make the application. Unfortunately, marriage officers like myself are blamed because the marriage certificate takes months to come. If I receive it, it is only after several applications have been made or I have gone back into the marriage section to query the situation. I believe marriage officers should be given preference in obtaining marriage certificates for marriages they perform.

Why is it we are faced with so many problems for just minor things in Guyana? We have not progressed very far as a nation after 49 years of independence. It’s about time our new Minister of National Security looked into these issues. For Guyana to progress we must stop living in denial and correct our incompetence from day to day.

Yours faithfully,

Rev Gideon Cecil

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