Can't get ID card until next election
Stabroek News
April 4, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I took some time off work last week Thursday to travel to my homeland to obtain or start the process of obtaining a new ID card. The reason being that on my last visit to the USA, I had difficulty at the bank to get my traveller's cheques changed. The teller told me that they could not accept the 'old' ID card since they were aware that Guyanese have entered the same bank to transact business with a 'new' and different looking ID card than the one that I presented to her.

I was, however, able to convince her that since I do not reside in Guyana, I shall make it my duty to get a new one on my next visit there. So the story is that I arrived in my homeland last Thursday and ventured early in the morning to the National Registration Centre in Kingston only to be told that if I had not registered for the last elections, then I could not get a new one and I would have to speak to the Minister of Home Affairs in order to obtain one.

I worked with the same Ministry for more than five years prior to migrating in order to attend university and have since decided to work in the region. I went to the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking to get some kind of help because I am travelling to the US very soon and do not want to encounter the same problem. Of course, I have the option of using my passport but I prefer to use my ID card.

The Minister's secretary informed me that he only sees the public on Wednesdays although I explained to her that I was only there for one working day, that being Friday 22nd. I then sought to see the Permanent Secretary upon her advice. However, to make a long story short after waiting for about 25 minutes I was told by the PS's secretary that she could not see me and I was sent to another officer who told me that what I wanted had to be dealt with by the PS or the Minister.

I do not understand and I am absolutely disgusted with the response that I got from the authorities in my own country of birth. It was most disheartening to know that something as simple as obtaining an ID card had become a 'political issue' and one can no longer travel home and obtain an ID card until there is an election. I have never heard such piffle and as one of my lecturers would say 'that is the epitome of nonsense.'

I got so angry that it was the first time in a decade since travelling home that I called the airline and took the first available flight back to my destination with a 'bitter taste' for the situation and the politics in my country.

It is a situation that I have since instructed my secretary to have us follow up with the Minister of Home Affairs. Could it really be true that someone cannot obtain a new ID card until there is another election? Is this the kind of thing that is occurring in the year 2002 in my homeland?

I have met so many Guyanese who reside out of Guyana who have vowed never to return only in a situation of death or other emergency and I have always tried to convince them otherwise. But with my experience last week, I am not sure that I have not now joined that group of Guyanese to stay away from my lovely country until there is something compelling to return.

I trust that I get some response from the Government when I do write to them concerning this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Samuel Legay

Attorney at Law

Editor's note:

Stabroek News spoke to a senior official of the Guyana Elections Commission, who told us that registration is not a continuous process under our current laws. According to the Laws of Guyana, Chapter 19:08, an order has to be made from time to time to appoint a period for registration. It is only during this period that citizens can be registered.

The last registration exercise was in 2000, and it was compulsory for all electors to be registered and/or photographed in order to obtain the new National Identification Cards. Citizens who did not present themselves to be registered/photographed during that period, do not at this point in time qualify to obtain identification cards, and neither can they now be registered. They would have to wait until the next registration period.

The official did assure us, however, that the Guyana Elections Commission has not taken any decision to decommission the old identification cards. These cards are still valid as a means of identification.