DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, on Thursday, reaffirmed government’s commitment to decentralising and improving access to government services for every Guyanese.
Director-General Harmon was, at the time, officially declaring open the Department of Citizenship’s spanking new $57.5M Immigration office at Canje, New Amsterdam, East Berbice-Corentyne, Region Six.
At the simple ceremony, Harmon said government has a responsibility to ensure that state services are available to all citizens, regardless of geographic location, political affiliation or any other factor. He noted that this was the first vision outlined by President David Granger when he assumed office in May 2015.
“When we first came into office, the President met with Minister Winston Felix and myself and gave us some clear directions on what he sees to be the services that should be available to the Guyanese public, especially with regard to passports and birth certificates. Since then, the minister has gone on a crusade to ensure that the vision of the President is actually put into practice. He has restructured and reorganised not only the Central Passport Office, but the way also in which we deal with birth certificates. No longer can you just walk into somewhere and print a birth certificate and turn up somewhere with it. All of our systems started to receive reviewing and revamping and I want to commend the Department of Citizenship for the job they have done,” he said.
The director-general noted that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that these basic services are provided to the citizenry and it is a responsibility this administration takes seriously.
“What is happening in immigration is symptomatic of what is happening in the entire country. When we came into office, we took this position that the suffering which we saw that people had to go through to get government services, we had to put that to an end. The President spoke about decentralising power, governance and services. We have created capital towns to ensure that the government services are decentralised and you have better access to these services. What is happening here today is what is happening in other parts of the country. This is all part of a process taking place. Very quietly the Department of Citizenship is moving and getting to the places where people require services,” he said.
Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix, in providing a background to the completion of the office, said that when the administration assumed office in 2015, the police was tasked with receiving applications for passports in the East Berbice, Corentyne Region. He noted that this process was extremely slow and therefore, many persons left as far as the Corentyne and journeyed to Georgetown from as early as 02:00hrs to line up at the Camp Road, Eve Leary office.
“A visit was paid to the crowded Central Immigration and Passport Office during an afternoon period and interviews were done following which, it was discovered that the majority of persons awaiting service were from Regions Five and Six. This triggered the thought of decentralising the passport office to areas outside of Georgetown. The President was of the view that these services should be available in capital towns and so Corriverton was visited. However, neither land nor building was accessible or useable. This location entered consideration and the contract was signed. On July 15, 2019, the building was put into operation to test the equipment and the efficiency of the staff. They have responded admirably to the task,” he said.
From July 2019 to date, the New Amsterdam office has accepted and processed 6,122 applications for passports, which are handled within seven working days.
Minister Felix noted that in addition to the cost of the building, the office has been outfitted with equipment to the tune of US$3, 512,760.
Meanwhile, regional executive officer of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region, Kim Williams-Stephens, in brief remarks, praised the development which she noted will be of significant benefit to residents.
“Having such a service has been impactful not only to the residents of this region, but also our neighbouring region. Apart from the obvious benefits such as saving money, time is also saved. Citizens no longer have to travel to Georgetown to receive this essential service. This is part of the government’s vision of building empowered, sustainable, strong communities, towns and regions. It has also provided employment opportunities to persons within this region,” she noted.
The immigration office is currently managed by nine staff members and will be outfitted in coming weeks with solar panels for energy generation. (Ministry of the Presidency)