Opposition says new registration of births bill opens door to electoral mischief

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…gov’t says it brings Guyana into the 21st century, reduces burdens to the process

While Ministers of Government, on Tuesday, presented the Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill 2021 as a means to simplify certain areas of the registration process, Opposition Members highlighted the Bill as crafted in such a loose manner that it could allow any person to register as a born Guyanese, opening the door to political and electoral mischief.

The Bill, read for the second time, was presented by Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn in the National Assembly. The Bill provides for the parent to choose any surname for the child; enables the child to be entered on the registration form any time after birth; provides for the previous incorrect certificate and the new certificate to be kept at record at the Registry; simplifies the process for a person who has no original documents to acquire a birth certificate; allows for the provision of a birth or death certificate within 45 days after filing for such; does away with the provision of different colored birth certificates for adopted children and implements the development of a Registration of Adoptions.

The Bill also establishes that there is need for change to some aspects of the Act such as the application process to correct errors on registration forms. It puts forward that this does not cater for a hearing which is a breach of the rule of law. Meanwhile, the provision limiting the time within which a late entry of a child’s name in the registration form must be made and the necessity to appear before a Magistrate to have this entry done has been removed.

Minister Benn said that Guyana’s indigenous peoples, in particular, stand to benefit from these changes due to their unique challenges.

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“For too many people who do not have their birth certificates, the acquisition of a birth certificate, the process, could be a very vexatious, tedious and also discriminatory process. It also has implications with respect to the time and cost and the efforts with which people who should carry a valid Guyana birth certificate have in obtaining such a birth certificate,” he said, highlighting that families also experience great challenges in acquiring death certificates for their loved ones.

Benn told the House said that the changes to the Bill being presented not only bring simpler means to receive these certificates but it brings integrity to the process.

TROJAN HORSE

However, in her presentation, Opposition MP, Amanza Walton-Desir said while the Opposition supports making the Registration of Births and Deaths Act as simple as possible it finds contention with the loose manner in which the provision was crafted which could provide a means for any person to be registered as a born Guyanese.

Compounding this, she said, is the absence of serious penalty within the Bill for any person who seeks to take advantage of such.

“This provision is a Trojan Horse. Mr. Speaker, wrapped up and lost away in other seemingly useful and progressive provisions, this clause, Mr. Speaker provides the ultimate opportunity for mischief and it is perhaps the cornerstone that is being made to ultimately and possibly irreversibly subvert the will of the people of Guyana,” she said.

Opposition MP, Khemraj Ramjattan

Walton-Desir noted that in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, there are more efforts made to safeguard against the registering of any person as a national. These can include the provision of a letter from the hospital stating the child’s date of birth and name of parents; statutory declaration from the applicants noting the reason for non-registration; an immunization card; a letter from the school they attended or possibly a marriage certificate of their parents.

The MP said: “All of this is going towards establishing identity and, Mr. Speaker, there must be some form of identification of the applicant.” With Guyana’s porous borders and thousands of Venezuelans in the country, she added that it is no secret that these migrant groups can become vulnerable to political pressure and influenced by the Bill passed in its current format.

Opposition MP, Khemraj Ramjattan agreed with sentiments as shared by Walton-Desir. He stated his opinion that enough thought was not put into the Act and that has therefore put the country at risk.

“It is important that they ought to have done a far better job of calling us in as an Opposition, dealing with this issue of proper registration and not creating — as beautifully put by Amanza Desir — a Trojan Horse in which a lot of corruption can happen and then the Minister, Mr. Benn, saying it’s trying to curb corruption when you’re creating such a big hole now for corruption,” he said.

OTHER CHANGES NECESSARY

Walton-Desir also raised concern with the part of the Bill that allows a parent to choose any surname for their child.

She said that such a power is likely to cause confusion as, in the Guyanese culture, a surname plays an important role in securing a person’s identity and sense of belonging. The Opposition MP said that such a change could also cause disagreement between parents with the additional burden of having to seek dispute resolution.

“While on the face of it this appears to be a very forward-thinking and progressive piece of legislation, we must appreciate in this House that our laws must reflect the realities and the values of our society. We must, as legislators as well, ask ourselves when prescribing laws, what is the mischief, what is the defect,” she put forward.

Ramjattan also agreed that conflict could come from the change that parents be allowed to choose any surname for their child. “This giving a disconnect to that which can bring the history of the person who is now born to associate that person with their parentage. In my view, this can also be another Trojan Horse for a lot of mischief,” he said.

Walton-Desir recommended that the particular clause of the Act be left as previous. Even so, should it be pursued, she recommended that it be treated as “in addition to” rather than in substitution for the existing law.

The Opposition MP supported other aspects of the Bill such as doing away with provision of different colored birth certificates for adopted children but recommended that the necessary Administrative arrangements be made for the  establishment of a register of adoption

Apart from these, she also suggested that all instances of “a person of high standing in the community” within the Bill be further specified to avoid confusion.

 

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandall

THE BILL IS NECESSARY

Meanwhile, in their presentations, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandall; Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira supported the Bill.

Nandlall said that the Opposition is “out of place” with its contentions with the Bill. Delving into matters such as the provision for a parent to choose any surname for the child, he explained that the British have long since abandoned the convention of automatically entering the surname of the child’s father as if the father does not consent to his name on the registration form, the law must provide a solution.

He stated that such a practice is also discriminatory to women as women should also be allowed to carry on their family names. “If the father does not consent to his name on the registration form, then the law must provide a solution,” he said.

Teixeira agreed that it is high time that women are allowed to put her surname to the name of her child. She added: “If you are a single parent of a one name parent that is a category that allows you to do that, it is a choice. However, if you’re married and you like your husband’s name and you want to keep it then so be it.”

Nandlall also addressed the importance of a hearing for the correction of errors on registration forms noting that it provides for the Registrar to be heard before the magistrate makes a decision on whether the error in question is genuine.

Supporting the other changes within the Bill, including non-discrimination towards adopted children, the Attorney General said: “By these amendments, we seek to remedy some of the deficiencies in the Registration of Births and Deaths Act. To remove injustice to our children. We seek to fulfil our national and international obligations.”

In another presentation, MP Allister Charlie said that the Bill will undoubtedly address the woes of Guyanese indigenous peoples and those living in the hinterland. He urged all Guyanese to endorse the Bill indicating that the Bill will ultimately bring relief to all Guyanese.

The Bill was then read for the second time, considered and approved by Committee and was passed in the National Assembly without amendment.



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