The integrity of the Vital Statistics Unit needs to be restored
A news analysis
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 27, 2019– The Vital Statistics Unit, which has been removed from the control of the Judiciary and now falls under the Attorney General’s Ministry, is a department that is key to the democratic process of Belize, its function being complementary to the Elections and Boundaries Department, which compiles the voters list.
But since the re-registration exercise began last July, there have been a lot of public complaints about what has been transpiring at the Vital Statistics Unit.
A considerable number of Belizeans have been disenfranchised because they were unable to access their documents from the Vital Statistics Unit when they applied to get them. As it now stands, the new voters list is almost 71,000 voters shorter than the previous list, and some of the reasons for this shortfall can be laid at the door of the Vital Statistics Unit.
Now, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum date draws near, it is manifestly clear that a large number of Belizeans are going to be disenfranchised and will not be able to participate in the most important electoral process since independence in 1981, because they are unable to access their documents from the Vital Statistics Unit.
The government, in particular the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, who now has control of the Vital Statistics Unit, has been painstakingly coming to the defense of the unit, notwithstanding the inconvenience that the public continues to suffer, especially those living outside Belize City.
Yesterday, Tuesday, a release from the management of the Vital Statistics Unit advised the public that the computer system at the unit had crashed and that “the Unit hopes to have the issue resolved no later than the close of business today.”
No reason was given for the crash, but by evening a short notice was published advising the public that the Unit would resume normal working hours the following day, Wednesday.
Last year, when the unit was at its former location, a similar crash was reported. In that instance, however, it turned out that the head of the Unit, Patricia Hinkson, had been given a termination letter by the driver of Attorney General Peyrefitte the evening before, and the computer crash turned out to be just an excuse for the installation of a new head at the unit.
So while the political bosses were busy installing their new head at the Vital Statistics Unit, many Belizeans were inconvenienced.
As an illustration that political operatives of the governing party are having a field day at the Vital Statistics Unit, a video of the messenger who works at the UDP office was recently circulated and was shown on the Opposition PUP Positive Vibes morning talk show. The messenger was shown in the areas of the office where documents are stored, an area which should be restricted from public access.
Apart from the UDP messenger, however, a photograph of one of Prime Minister Barrow’s close relatives has also been circulating, who reportedly is a “regular” at the Vital Statistics Unit and has recommended several persons for employment there.
This is a government department that handles sensitive information. These two individuals have no right to be in the area where the records are kept.
The Vital Statics Unit is a government department and its integrity as such should be restored.
Yesterday, the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai, and the chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Doug Singh, both appeared on Channel 5’s Open Your Eyes morning show.
Both Tamai and Singh acknowledged that there are problems at the Vital Statistics Unit.
According to Tamai, over 2,500 persons have not been able to be re-registered due to missng documents.
Chairman Singh also admitted that the government is aware of the problems at the Vital Statistics Unit that it has to address.
“I will tell you, yes, people were complaining, so many persons were left off the list…” Tamai said.
Tamai added, “…Now they have that late registration, so they need to go into that [Vital Statistics] department, get their records together and then come to Elections and Boundaries. We will take your application as long as we can verify the information, but we just cannot put persons on [the list] or assume that because you were on the list [you can be put back on it].”
Marleni Cuellar, who hosts Open Your Eyes, asked Singh if he is concerned about the situation.
Chairman Singh replied, “…The government is very much aware of the challenges, I think to a lesser degree at Immigration Department, but to a great degree at Vital Statistics, because, I mean, we have heard that there are even pages within some logs that may not be there. So we are aware of the challenges and we are sympathetic with the people who actually come out to try and register. That problem has to be fixed.”
Perhaps it would have been better if the Vital Statistics Unit had remained under the Judiciary; at least the naked political interference in the function of this most important department of government in the democratic process would not have been on display so shockingly. It now appears that the transfer of this department was done for the political expediency of the governing party.