4
Opinions Sun, 1 Nov 2015

Saga of Ghanaian birth certificate

Who would have thought that seven months after applying for new birth certificates for my children, I would still be waiting only to read this morning that in Tanzania, the feat is achieved in days using mobile telephones?

No paper

It is not that these children have never had birth certificates. Indeed, they secured copies within days of their birth in the hospital. It was only while applying for passports seven months ago that we got to know of Ghana’s policy requiring new certificates. These new certificates are now mandatory in cases where they serve as the form of identification in the passport application process. Since then, never a week passes without a new story explaining why we are still empty handed after seven months. For many months, it was about the absence of paper. There was virtually no paper in Ghana to print birth certificates.

Faulty machines

“The paper is finished,” officials said. How a whole country runs out of paper is beyond my understanding, but this excuse was sufficient to delay the process for months. Now, officials tell me the paper is available. Even so, the drama ends not. More recently, it has been about the machines. The machines are not in top working conditions otherwise explained by the officials as “our machines have problems.”

Why change

Why change the old birth certificates if you do not have the systems, processes and supplies in place to sustain the issuance of new ones, a system to promptly address the unending backlog of applicants and a system to exceptionally meet and/or exceed the expectations of applicants.

Tanzania example

In Tanzania, where more than 90 per cent of children have no birth certificates, mobile telephone services have come to their rescue. The system apparently now allows health workers to deliver birth certificates in a matter of days using text messaging services.

“The way it works is health workers send a text that includes a baby’s name, sex, date of birth and family details to a central database managed by the Registration Insolvency & Trusteeship Agency (RITA), a government body. Once received, an automated response allows them to issue the document soon after. The government is now looking to expand the initiative into the rest of the country in the next five years”, said a report culled from qz.com. This approach is currently operational in 10 out of the country’s 26 regions with the Tanzanian government looking to nationwide scale up. It was launched in 2013, in a partnership with the mobile carrier Tigo and UNICEF, led by the Tanzanian government.

Need for good registration system

Beyond securing passports, the advantages of a good registration system are myriad; keeping better civil registration and vital statistics, accurate government statistics, improved planning to meet the health and educational needs of an ever increasing population etc.

In Ghana, an effective birth registration system, of which birth certificates will form a part, could even be linked to a robust and effective National Identification system that could serve the purposes of a credible voter’s register.

This has recently been argued forcefully by the likes of Dr Abu Sakara. This way, accurate records of the country’s population would be available and perhaps, have entirely rendered somewhat obsolete, this raging debate on whether every four years, Ghana must commit new resources to developing a new voter’s register on account of new entrants, double registrants and deceased nationals.

Ghana can copy Tanzania

To say that my seven month ongoing saga of getting new birth certificates for three children is a monumental national embarrassment is an understatement. Like Tanzania, Tigo and UNICEF are both alive, well, and operational right here in Ghana. Even worse, Tanzania has a mobile telephone penetration of 73 per cent compared to Ghana’s, which at the last check was in excess of a 100 per cent . I suppose it is applying the technology to solving the problem that is the issue here.

With Tanzania aiming to provide birth certificates to about a million children before the end of 2015, while registering 90 per cent of all babies born within the next five years, I wish to plead, beg, grovel, cry, beseech, implore, pray, entreat the high and mighty within the Births and Deaths Registry to kindly get their act together. This saga has gone on embarrassingly long enough and my reputation as a father among the children has taken a nose dive as I have become reduced to a teller of incredible stories. Aseye, Che and Kwabena cannot understand how Ghana cannot get paper to print their new birth certificates to enable them to secure passports to undertake a long promised trip by Papa!

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi