Georgetown, Guyana – (July 8, 2019) Minister of Citizenship, Mr. Winston Felix, today, vehemently denied allegations by Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo that government officials and more particularly persons within the Ministry of the Presidency are facilitating a “people smuggling ring” in Guyana.
Mr. Jagdeo made this statement last week, during his weekly press conference on July 4, 2019. In an invited comment Minister Felix described the Opposition Leader as being disingenuous in an effort to mislead the Guyanese public.
“This coalition government has not been involved in any people smuggling ring. As a matter of fact, we have regularised and put proper systems in place to ensure that immigration matters are dealt with in an efficient manner from passports to birth certificates to persons entering and leaving Guyana legally. The Leader of the Opposition and his former Chief Whip have been trying to create issues around immigration matters and pointing at the Ministry of the Presidency. We have not found any evidence of smuggling so Mr. Jagdeo’s reference to smuggling is quite disingenuous. The Police is the agency that must investigate smuggling not the Department of Citizenship so if Mr. Jagdeo has evidence of smuggling, he must take it to the Commissioner of Police,” he said.
Minister Felix noted too that the Opposition Leader has a tendency of identifying Haitians when he makes his spurious allegations and while questions must be raised as to why this particular group is always targeted, the Minister assures Guyanese that most of the persons travelling to Guyana enter and leave legally. He, however, noted that like any other country, there are a selected few who choose to take advantage of the country’s porous borders.
“I have been looking at this situation and what I have seen is that within Guyana there is a Haitian diaspora just as in Suriname, Cayenne, Brazil and Colombia and with the issues occurring in Haiti, they continue to leave their homeland and to seek refuge in countries where they have relatives and friends. In many cases, they use Guyana as a transit point. I have had cause to investigate Haitians in Guyana and I have found that they arrive here legally. Many of them are here legally but there is a number who take advantage of our porous borders and they exit via Guyana to Suriname to Cayenne
and in more recent times, through Brazil on their way to Venezuela and Colombia,” he explained.
In responding to allegations made by Mr. Jagdeo that the Government has been affording preferential treatment to Haitians and other nationalities, Minister Felix made it clear that this is not the case.
“The system at the airport is open to public scrutiny. The public can witness the arrival of the Haitians and Cubans legally. There are lines at the airport to deal with CARICOM nationals, diplomats and Guyanese citizens. I don’t know that there is a special line for Haitians and Cubans. I note that he has also been saying that persons offering preferential treatment have been accessing the airside, which is a restricted area. The management of the Airport has never complained to any department that an illegal activity is occurring in their space allegedly by Haitians or Guyanese associated. So that allegation is unfounded, untrue and unsupported by any evidence. He is just being disingenuous in attempting to make a case of corruption against this Government. We have not departed from any practices or laws that govern migration and immigration in general,” Minister Felix said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Citizenship said that it has also been brought to his attention that the Leader of the Opposition has also called for an audit of the General Registrar’s Office (GRO) process of digitising its records since he believes that the database can and will be compromised to feed inaccurate information to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Minister Felix made it pellucid that the coalition government does not facilitate or condone such practices even as he noted that Mr. Jagdeo, and any other agency, is welcome to audit the process employed.
“We are professionalising the services falling within the Ministry of the Presidency. When we took office, birth certificates were a very serious problem for citizens and we immediately pursued an avenue that would shorten the time between application and issuance. When we took over it was manual. You had to go through paper records and the staff was divided into transcribers and researches. It was a laborious task that took between one to three months. What we have done is to engage in a process of digitising the records. We do not need to tamper with the system for any purpose. We recognise the purpose of digitising the system and once we are through, we then move to the stages where we can produce a unique identity for every Guyanese from birth to death,” he said.
The Minister continued: “Very soon we will be working on printing the birth certificates rather than writing on it and all these acts by this coalition government are intended to improve the system. Mr. Jagdeo can say what he wants. He is probably begrudging us that we can do so much in four years that he couldn’t do in 23 years. We will continue to dazzle his eyes with excellence in how we manage the departments under our stewardship,” the Minister of Citizenship expressed.