Headline — 11 August 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Vital Statistics Unit closed Wednesday; director suddenly fired

A report to us is that the Vital Statistics Unit, the Companies Registry, and BELIPO, will now come directly under Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte.

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 9, 2018– Wednesday, August 8, was not a public and bank holiday in Belize, but if you visited the Belize City office of the Vital Statistics Unit at the corner of Hydes Lane and New Road, you would have come upon a sign which read: “The Vital Statistics Department will be closed the 8th August, 2018. Kindly note that the system is presently being serviced. Service will resume on the 9th August, 2018, 8:00 a.m.”

There was no announcement on the radio and television stations on Tuesday night to alert citizens about the closure. People from the districts were especially inconvenienced because they travelled all the way to Belize City just to find out that the office was closed.

Regardless of what the notice on the closed door of the office said, at the Vital Statistics Unit, since the re-registration process began, there have been rumors of massive political interference taking place at the office, and that operatives of the ruling United Democratic Party have been hanging around the office, routinely disrespecting and impeding the staff in the execution of their duties.

Pamela Hinkson, 56, a retired public officer with impeccable UDP credentials, was reportedly handpicked by Denise “Sister B” Barrow to head the Vital Statistics office, where she was hired as a contract officer. On Tuesday evening, August 7, shortly before 6:00 p.m., Hinkson was at the office working when, according to what a source told our newspaper, she was handed a termination letter by a driver from the Attorney General’s Ministry.

The speculation is that Hinkson, director of the unit, was not as easily manipulated as the people who hired her had hoped.

Another director, Ms. Perez (no first name provided), was also reportedly terminated a few months ago from the office. Apart from the two directors, Hinkson and Perez, a number of lower level staff members were given walking papers from the Vital Statistics office.

It is possible that Hinkson’s termination had everything to do with the closure of the office on Wednesday. When the office opened today, Thursday, it was under a new director, Ishelle Murillo, who was an assistant to Hinkson.

This morning, Thursday, we asked Murillo why the office had been closed to the public yesterday.

Murillo told us that she could not answer our question, and directed us to the Registrar General. This afternoon, we caught up with Registrar General, Trienia Young, who told us that she was also unable to answer any questions about Hinkson’s termination.

Young told us that we would have to get that information from the Ministry of the Attorney General, or from the Public Services Commission.

Late this afternoon, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) issued a press release condemning Wednesday’s closure of the Vital Statistics Unit.

The PUP release said: “It has come to the attention of the People’s United Party (PUP) that the Vital Statistics Unit in Belize City was closed for services on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. This, we understand, is due to serious internal conflicts rooted in corruption. Several key personnel within the Unit have reportedly been terminated and as a result, the Unit is unable to carry out basic functions.”

The release added, “Even before Wednesday, applicants, especially from the districts, have encountered and become frustrated at the long delays in the processing of birth certificates and other documents. While we understand that every organization will encounter its share of challenges, we in the PUP cannot accept that during this re-registration exercise, an important organization such as the Vital Statistics Unit is not providing this essential service at this time.”

The press release quoted Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, as saying, “Several issues and inconsistencies brought to the forefront by persons on the ground, including the underperformance of the Vital Statistics office, greatly undermine the overarching objective of achieving a clean and new voters list that should enhance the democratic process.”

The PUP called on the Attorney General “…to immediately account to the Belizean people on the occurrences taking place in the Vital Statistics Unit. The Belizean people need to be assured that whatever is happening within the Unit is nothing close to the usual underhandedness and manipulation of the system that has become the trademark of this UDP government.”

Following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, a reliable source in Belmopan told our newspaper that the Vital Statistics Unit, the Companies Registry, and BELIPO, will now come directly under Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte.
AG Peyrefitte, who is also a candidate for the UDP in the Port Loyola constituency, whose incumbent is Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, will now have more control of the very important Vital Statistics Unit in the remaining weeks of the re-registration process.

Peyrefitte is expected to go up against former UDP City Councilor Philip Willoughby in the convention to select a new standard bearer for Port Loyola, in the wake of the retirement of Hon. Martinez.

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