Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte has called what is perhaps the first press conference in recent years to address the mounting concerns at the Vital Statistics Unit in Belize. The conference was held this afternoon and while it addressed numerous issues, tonight, we focus on the portion of the story that focuses on the issuance of birth certificates and why some people cannot get theirs from the Vital Statistics Unit.
Michael Peyrefitte – Attorney General: “I have to confess to one thing. When Vital Stats came under the Attorney General’s Ministry there was one thing that I wanted to prevent above all else. I did not want a non born Belizean to be issued a birth paper, that is my number one goal and I have tried to prevent that to almost a fault. I would prefer for people to complain and cuss the office rather than run the risk of issuing a birth paper to people who did not deserve to have one and people have attended. In just a couple months from the records here exactly fifty-seven people attempted to get birth certificates who were not born here. They even had the testicular fortitude to say that they were born in Peten Guatemala and other parts of Guatemala but yet went on the media to complain that they could not get a birth paper. You can’t get a birth paper from Belize if you were not born in Belize, it is that simple and I think that the public needs to understand the importance of a birth paper, such a simple document. It is the single most important document that identifies you as a national of this country. With a birth paper, you can get any other public document. No other single public document can get you a birth paper.”
According to the Attorney General, the problems outside that matter are still many. He says that many Belizeans have provided inaccurate information, triggering a series of difficulties.
Michael Peyrefitte – Attorney General: “The problem we face at Vital Stats is that a lot of people that come in there and they say my name is so and so and it turns out that when we find the information that is not their real name. They want us to right there and then to adjust a record that is a public record and that is very difficult for us to do. Information coming into the office a lot of times is inaccurate, Mr. Cleland has told me that in many cases it is the cold hard fact that some people can’t read and write, they can’t give you the information or can’t spell the information. How do you spell Jeffrey? How do you spell a certain name? They don’t know so we have to assist them in the best way that we can. Now add that to the fact that it is unfortunate for many years people simply didn’t register their children. You never saw it as important so now you go to the Vital Stats office today and you say well I was born 42 years ago but it turns out that you were not registered so what we require from you is additional information to prove that yes on a balance of probabilities we have good information that you were born here: a hospital record, a primary school testimony from a teacher, classmate or something to that effect to try and get you registered. It is not to make the system cumbersome but we have to make sure that when we issue a birth paper to an individual that the birth paper is based on solid ground.”
And then there is the matter of work load. With 27 employees at the Vital Statistics Unit countrywide, a number the AG says increased since his ministry took over the office, the work load is big.
Michael Peyrefitte – Attorney General: “Now when you look at all of that, all that can go wrong by the applicant, him or herself you have to also look at the volume. For 2018 over 42,000 documents were issued by the Vital Stats Department, that is over 180 per day. That is an addition to corrections, in addition to assessments of what people want and time spent answering questions from 350,000 people asking questions of 27 members of staff: 33,000 of those 42,000 were birth paper. There were 7500 birth papers more or less issued between July 2018 and November 2018 and then when you look from since November 18th since the Attorney General’s Ministry took it over we have issued 15,668 birth papers. That is in addition to 2656 marriage certificates as well and then you require certificates to prove that you are not married, then you are required to depose in certain cases and corrections. We have issued since November 2018 19,939 documents to the Belizean public. The volume alone is tremendous so when you add the difficulties that we have had with the volume that we have had to service, in my view the people at the Vital Stats are doing a tremendous job in my view.”
There were several other issues addressed in the Attorney General’s press brief today and we will bring you these in our subsequent newscasts. With the referendum coming up on May 8, only those who are successful in their applications made up to April 10, will be allowed to vote.