|No name on birth certificates |
Wednesday, March 20 2013
THE PROBLEM of people having no name on their birth certificate affects an estimated 300,000 citizens, Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar said yesterday as legislation to allow corrections to birth certificates was debated in the Senate.
“Three hundred thousand citizens do not have a given name on their birth certificate. Of that number, 30,000 are 18 years and under,” Ramadhar said. “The urgency of this situation is why Section 22 is to be amended now. We are well aware that the entire Act must be reviewed and we are in the process of drafting legislation to replace it,” Ramadhar said.
Ramadhar stated at the same time that the problem has also resulted in 1,000 known cases of fraud.
“To date, there are over 1,000 known cases of persons using the same birth record that the Registrar General has investigated and regrettably, it is anticipated that this number will increase,” he said.
“There is a growing number of our citizens who continue to endure hardship seemingly without relief, and who must somehow navigate their lives, with access barred to basic government services such as healthcare and government financial assistance.” He said the Registrar General has established a committee which is proposing changes to civil registration which are nearly ready for submission to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.
Ramadhar noted some may ask, “Why then bring this amendment now?”
He said, “The simple reason is that there are persons who visit the Registrar General daily; some of them may even be looking at these proceedings right now, hoping to have some relief to the daily hardship that not having a given name on their birth certificate has caused. The absence of a given name on a birth certificate facilitates the perpetration of fraud and identity theft.”
Hinds: $5,000 birth
Later on, Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds alleged that the production of false documents such as birth certificates and visas, is a major criminal enterprise taking place locally. In his contribution to debate, Hinds declared: “The whole scenario around false birth papers and false documents and false passports is a major industry.”
“I am told that a fraudulent birth paper can sell for as much as $5,000. People are paying thousands of dollars to go and get a forged visa stamp to try to get into the United States,” he claimed.
Recalling measures like the automated passport which were put in place by the former PNM government to stamp out this kind of illegal activity, Hinds said he is pleased to see the Registrar General taking action to deal with this issue through the hiring of former Fraud Squad officers to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice.
Observing flaws in the system which enabled several persons to make use of a single birth certificate, Hinds said the reasons for such action are varied. “Some years ago, we had a situation where it is alleged, I don’t know whether it was well established, that a certain former Commissioner of Police wanted to extend his time in office,” Hinds said.
“He produced someone else’s birth certificate. That’s not new. There are many other cases like that in this country,” he said. Hinds claimed similar situations happened in the case of then Strategic Services Agency Director Reshmi Ramnarine and, “a commissioner sitting on a commission of inquiry.”
“Therefore to put it in very colloquial terms, it is about racket and ratchefee and bobol,” he declared. As Hinds made reference to President Anthony Carmona’s inaugural speech on Monday, Government Senators told him, “don’t bring the President into the debate”, and, “you (are) paraphrasing the President.”
But after Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith allowed him to continue, Hinds said: “At all levels of the society. He (Carmona) called the nation to order yesterday (Monday) saying we must all observe the same high standards that we expect of the other.”
As a lawyer, Hind said he has seen cases in the court “ where a youngster may have been accused of committing a crime and in an attempt to avoid big jail, claims he is 16 years or younger.”
“He claims juvenile status and that is one of the scenarios which people try to deceive as it relates to age,” Hinds said. Independent Senator Corrine Baptiste-McKnight asked Ramadhar, to indicate whether “this measure is a prelude to outlawing birth certificates without names on it.”
Noting that information such as baptismal records are not readily available, Baptiste-McKnight said: “The possibility of fraud lies there.” Opposition Senator Shamfa Cudjoe asked Ramadhar to explain what steps would be done to assist persons who are over 82 years of age to have better access to their birth certificates, saying it is difficult for these persons to obtain these documents.