The Department of Citizenship will be introducing an e-passport in 2019, Minister Winston Felix told the National Assembly on Tuesday.
“…There will be a redesign and enhancement of the Guyanese passport to an electronic passport, e-passport. Therefore all equipment must be replaced with modern technology. This means that this country will be migrating from the current machine readable passport to the e-passport,” Felix said on day two of the 2019 budget debate.
He ex plained to the House that this modern machine readable passport contains an electronic chip which will provide enhanced security and will hold the same information that is printed on the bio page. He said that this type of passport will also contain a biometric identifier such as a digital photograph of the passport holder. The passport given the new features will be more difficult to duplicate and alter. “The extra layer of security has been known to inspire greater confidence in and acceptance of a country’s travel document,” he added. He said that Guyana would join its sister Caribbean countries with the introduction of this passport.
He explained that aside from the regular 32-page passport, a larger one containing 48 pages will also become available in the new year. He said that the 48-page passport which will have a ten-year lifespan and cost $10,000 will be available to frequent fliers, members of the Judiciary, businessmen, parliamentarians and senior public servants. He said that there will also be a system to accommodate persons who wish to have the processing of passport applications expedited online, at a cost of $20,000 and within 24 hours beginning January 1. This facility will not be available to persons who would have lost or damaged their passport.
Felix told the House that so far in 2018 over 59, 079 travel documents have been issued locally and Guyanese living in 30 countries received 17,310 passports.
He said that it’s through its decentralization efforts the Department reached out to residents of Region Six and this resulted in 6,143 passports being delivered. Additionally persons in Regions 2, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 10 who had applied for their passports in Georgetown, were redirected to a particular place within their region and given a time to uplift their documents.
During his 35-minute presentation, he said that his Department continues to build on the past achievements and has transformed the manner in which immigration and passport services and the registration of births are delivered. He said that in the last budget he had alluded to the need for the decentralization of the passport service. So far this year he said two buildings have been built at New Amsterdam and Linden and both will be in use from January 1, 2019.
He added that for 2019 the Department has been allocated a sum to construct a passport office in Lethem. “I will take what I can get until I get what I want,” he said adding that the procurement process for this project has commenced.
According to Felix for 2018, 298 nationals were granted citizenship and 225 Cubans, 175 Chinese, 165 Americans, 120 Indians, 70 Filipinos, 75 Venezuelans, 59 British, 45 Dominican Republicans, 30 Trinidadians, and 15 Surinamese were processed for either extension or work permits to stay.
Felix assured that the Department is working on ensuring that Guyanese receive a fair share of job opportunities which will be made available as a result of investments that will “open up shortly.” He said that all prospective employers are required to publish vacancies over a three- month period “to give Guyanese a chance to compete for these employment opportunities,” adding that the Department has notice some unhealthy work practices and will be working with the Department of Labour to have these corrected.
He informed that attention will also be given to birth registration services. He said that while Guyana has been working to achieve 100% birth registration, there are still challenges particularly in the far-flung areas.
In 2018 through the assistance of UNICEF outreaches were conducted in Regions 1, 8 and 9 which resulted in the processing of 1188 late registrations and 590 new applications.
With regards to the Venezuelan migrants in the north west, he said work is being done to develop programmes to control the influx and identify those already in Guyana. Millions of dollars he said has already been spent in vaccines and operational expenses.
He said that while his Department did not get “enough to make us feel happy”, it will have to make do with the $1.5B that has been allocated for 2019 for current and capital projects including the purchase of passports and birth certificates and the continuation of the digitizing project currently ongoing at the General Register Office.
To shouts of “yup!” Felix pointed out that he has noted that the opposition has been castigating ministers for excessive spending and waste “as though Guyana was born after May 2015. This APNU+AFC government took over a colossal mess from the PPP government in every area.”
Among the egregious acts committed by the opposition, he said are the billions spent on the modernization of the Skeldon Estate with “not a single cent” in return, investment of billions in a fibre optic cable, the illegal investment of NIS monies in a foreign scheme and the Berbice River Bridge, the false charging of two former New Building Society (NBS) employees for not investing shareholders’ money in the Berbice Bridge and the $100M belonging to GRDB which was borrowed by a “certain member of this House who allegedly signed for it but cannot repay it.”
“Those are waste of government funds which could have been better utilised for development,” he stressed before questioning how the members of the former administration can now “have the moral authority to lecture us on good governance.”