BELIZE CITY, Fri. Aug. 10, 2018– The government department that is now known as the Vital Statistics Unit, with its primary function of issuing official birth, death and marriage certificates, has always been under the Judiciary. In fact, there was a time when the office was housed downstairs of the Supreme Court Registry, but as the country’s population continued to grow, more space had to be found to house the office and its expanding staff.
Word out of Belmopan last week is that the Vital Statistics Unit will now be under the control of Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte; so too will be the Companies Registry and the office of BELIPO.
The control of these important government entities by a minister of government could ultimately result in the same saga of monumental corruption and scandals that has afflicted the Immigration Department.
In fact, there are already questions in some quarters about the qualifications of the new Assistant Registrar, Ishelle Murillo, who was once employed as a teller at Heritage Bank and then was hired at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, from which she was terminated.
With the re-registration of voters, the function of the Vital Statistics Unit has been somewhat thrust into the national spotlight because politicians from both major parties are pushing hard to get the voters in their various constituencies registered. Getting a birth certificate, however, is no easy feat and requires a lot of time and patience.
An ordinary person can apply for 5 birth certificates at a time, we learned during our investigation for this story, but there appears to be no limit to the number of certificates for which political candidates and their operatives can apply.
There is one certainty that distinguishes the politicians and their agents from the ordinary citizen when accessing the service of the Vital Statistics Unit: those politicians and agents do not have to get in the never-ending, long lines.
At the Vital Statistics Unit’s present location at the corner of New Road and Hydes Lane, the lines begin to form hours before the office is opened for business to the public. If one can find the time around 6:00 a.m., or shortly after 7:00 am, when the line begins to form, then one can begin the process of getting his or her documents.
In an interview yesterday, Thursday, Registrar General, Triennia Young, told us that on average, her staff at the Vital Statistics Unit service around 200 persons per day.
Many persons coming in from the districts to process their documents find it extremely difficult to cope with the length of time involved in getting their documents. This situation has helped to spawn a unique set of individuals who call themselves “couriers.”
Just in case there is any doubt that anyone can file for or pick up another person’s birth certificate or other documents, such as a deed poll, from the Vital Statistics Unit, the operation of couriers is a confirmation of this fact.
A courier, for the right fees, has the time to wait in the long lines and make the additional trip to the office that might become necessary to pick up a document. Furthermore, with the right kind of arrangement, a courier would put the document on a local flight, a bus, or any other means of transportation arranged by the client to get his or her documents delivered.
For example, a courier who spoke to us anonymously explained that in a good week, he can earn up to $600, providing service to people who don’t have the time to spend in the line or who are unable to make more than one trip to the office.
Turnaround time from the time of application to actually getting a birth document out of the Vital Statistics Unit is two weeks.
The courier whom we spoke with explained that he charges $300 to get a deed poll processed, from beginning to end. The official fees that the government charges for a deed poll is $23. In many cases, however, more than one trip is necessary to get the documents, and that is where the courier service may come in helpful, if one can afford it.
When we visited the Vital Statistics Unit office last Thursday, a number of people approached us to complain about the service and the long wait that they have to endure to pick up their documents.