Kaieteur News- My first job interview required that I produce some form of identification and proof that I was of working age. Since I did not have a Guyana identification card at the time, I took along my driver’s licence and my birth certificate.
I hoped that the former would identify me and at the same time allow me to get into the transport section, while my birth certificate would show that I was of working age.The interviewing officer took my driver’s licence and wrote something down on a sheet of paper. He then picked up my birth certificate and took a long time looking over it. So long that I decided to ask, “Is anything wrong, sir?” To which he replied, “Yes, I cannot find the expiration date.”
From the number of birth certificates which the General Register Office issues each year, one may be tempted to believe that birth certificates now carry an expiry date. The sheer number of applications would suggest that persons are of the view that every few years they need to apply for a new birth certificate.
The problem is that too many persons in Guyana are no longer taking care of their important documents. They are misplacing them much too easily, with the result that every few years they need to apply to have replacements issued.
It is simply unacceptable for such large numbers of applications to be made in any one month. Even for one year, this number would be simply too much in a small country like Guyana. It places undue pressure on the system, with the result that processing times are bound to be extended. It is unacceptable, and the only persons to blame are those who are losing their certificates.
This was hardly the case up to 30 years ago. People took good care of their documents. Many of them may not have had even a file folder to store their documents, but they resorted to keeping them in plastic bags or used envelopes. More importantly they had a fixed place, usually some drawer, where all their important papers were kept. And keep them safely they did. Today there are persons who still have their British Guiana birth certificates.
Somebody should run-off a competition in Guyana to see who can produce the oldest birth certificate. I am sure that quite a few birth certificates dating back to the early 1900s can still be found.
Unfortunately, not many of these older certificates are accepted for use. There are many places in Guyana, including embassies, which refuse to accept a British Guiana birth certificate as proof of birth.
It is not clear what position the Registration Office took during the national registration exercise a few years ago, but no one should be denied registration simply because they have a British Guiana birth certificate. In fact, anyone who can produce such a certificate should be given an award for being able to safely keep that document.
In the old days there was no photocopying and persons had to take their documents, for example, when applying for a passport. They did not lose these documents.
Yet today, with the luxury of photocopying, people are still losing their original documents. Perhaps it is because replacements come too easily. All it takes, according to the General Registrar Office, is for an application to be made and an inexpensive fee to be paid for a replacement copy.
If however, the replacement fee was $1,000, then perhaps persons would lose their original certificates less. It is something that should be considered, for in as much as Guyana would like its citizens to be able to afford to have replacements of important documents such as birth or marriage certificates, there needs to be some controls and disincentives against persons losing their original documents.
An increase in the cost of these certificates will do the trick, because if there is anything that dissuades Guyanese from losing anything, it is the high cost of replacement.Guyanese need to keep their documents safely and ensure they are stored in an easily accessible place. A good way to know how organised someone is, would be to see whether when at home they can find their birth certificate within five minutes. If they cannot, then it says that they need to get themselves better organised.
A while back, President Obama quipped at a dinner that there were a few things in life harder to find and more important to keep than love. Then he added, “Well, love and a birth certificate.”
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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