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Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, S.C said the Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act not only threatens the integrity of the country’s National Register of Registrants (NRR) and Electoral Lists but also presents a clear danger in the fight to combat terrorism and transnational crimes.
The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act, which was passed in the National Assembly on August 3, provides for a parent to choose any surname for a child, allows for a child to be registered any time after birth, and simplifies the process for a person who has no original documents to acquire a birth certificate among other provisions.
But Williams said, the Act, which did not receive the support of the main opposition in the National Assembly – the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), is a recipe for disaster.
“The recent passage of the Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill 2021, Bill No. 10 of 2021 presents a clear and present danger to the efforts of the International community to combat the scourge of international terrorism and transnational crimes, and indeed the national security and sovereignty of Guyana.
Additionally, this Bill creates the conditions for the eternal feuding of political parties with respect to a credible national register of registrants and electoral lists,” the former Attorney General said in a letter to the press.
He said the amended provisions in the Registrations of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act is outrageous, contending that no community leader or Toshao should be allowed to issue declarations in favor of a complete stranger who claims that he or she has no original document containing particulars of their birth or no record of their birth. Such a situation, he warned could result in non-nationals being registered as born nationals in Guyana.
“Do I need to remind that our borders are porous and may be teeming with traffickers in persons (girls/women), drugs, weapons, gold and diamonds etc. Guyana can replace Trinidad and Tobago as a breeding ground for terrorist fighters. Already we were labelled with having the No. 3 man in Al Queda,” he reasoned.
The Senior Counsel reminded that once an individual secures a birth certificate it can be used to acquire a passport – one of the most valuable tools of an international terrorists who thrives on having multiple nationalities.
“This state of affairs can easily lend itself to the sale of Guyanese citizenship to dubious characters seeking refuge in Guyana,” Williams said.
Section 44 A (1) of the Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act states: “Where an adult requires a certificate of birth and there is no original document containing the particulars of his birth or there is no record of his birth, the Registrar General shall issue a certificate of birth…” However, the individual would require a declaration from a community leader, a declaration from a high standing community leader signed by a Justice of Peace or a Commissioner of Oaths or any other document with information indicating particulars of birth notarized by a Notary Public.
Williams said too that there are other amendments in the said Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act that can prove to be disastrous.
“The new section 35 removes judicial oversight over the process of inserting a name in the registration form I a year or more has elapsed since the birth of a child where no name was given on registration. Likewise, for a name change or a child which it should have been given at the time of registering its birth. a parent or guardian had up to a year to do such insertion or change of a child’s name after the registration of its birth,” he reasoned.
Williams further pointed out that the old section 35 had required a parent or guardian to make an application to a Magistrate’s Court if one or more years had elapsed. Notably, the Court needed to be satisfied that with the particulars in support of such application before it grants approval for the Registrar General to proceed to make and insertion or change of name.
In the National Assembly, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desire 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.
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.
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.