By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE IMMIGRATION Department took proactive steps to ensure the authenticity of birth certificates used in citizenship applications following concerns about the validity of the documents issued in 2012 and 2013, according to Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell.
He was responding to questions from The Tribune following revelations in Auditor General Terrance Bastian’s 2012-2013 audit of the public sector that pointed to irregularities concerning birth records, which were then used to obtain passports.
Mr Mitchell said: “The department took steps a long time ago to verify the authenticity of birth certificates. You will remember that there was a long delay in processing citizenship applications. This was because all birth certificates were returned to the registrar to be re-verified.
“We are not aware of the specific issues in the auditor general’s report,” he added.
In his report, Mr Bastian revealed that an officer who was transferred from the Registrar General Department’s birth record office had logged 75 birth certificates in the system that were not recorded in the department’s Data Management Search Section. His scope of reference included births registered from April 2012 to April 2013.
After tracing a sample of those records, it was discovered that those same persons were issued passports or certificates of identity, while others had made application for passports.
The report noted that the matter was under active police investigation at the time of the review.
Chief Superintendent Paul Rolle, officer-in-charge of the Central Detective Unit (CDU), confirmed to The Tribune last week that a complaint was received on May 29, 2013. Mr Rolle said that two suspects were arrested and charged in the matter; however, the status of the court case was unclear up to press time.
On a radio talk show last year, Mr Mitchell revealed that some 300 applications for citizenship were returned earlier that year due to suspicions that birth certificates were fraudulently issued from the civil registry.
He made the revelation as he discussed motivating factors behind the government’s decision to introduce a new immigration policy on “Connected”, a Guardian Radio talk show with Lester Cox. He did not provide a specific timeline or further details concerning the initiative.
All the certificates had to be recertified, according to Mr Mitchell at the time, adding that the incident exposed the importance of utilising biometric data in a modern environment.