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Ethnic Relations Commission
66 Peter Rose & Anira Streets, Queenstown, Georgetown, Guyana
Tel. +592-231-6479, 231-6473,
231-6281, 231-6265
Fax: +592-231-6246

PRESS RELEASE

REPORT ON ERC’S VISIT TO REGION TWO- APRIL 26-27, 2007

Irrespective of a peaceful 2006 elections, efforts to foster racial harmony and social cohesion should continue, in order maintain good relations among the ethnic groups. This was the admonition of Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) Bishop Juan Edghill, to the Regional Executives of Region Two Pomeroon/Supernaan, recently.

The ERC made its inaugural Regional Visit for 2007 with a call to Region Two where the Chairman, Commissioners, Chief Executive Officer and Programme Officers conducted meetings with the Regional Executives, religious leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, the public and also conducted its Public Education and Awareness programme.

At a meeting with Regional Executives, the Chairman said that the Commission is actively involved in following up on Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) National Conversation. He informed the executives about the meeting of the Working Group of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum National Conversation. He said that at that meeting, the group decided that their priority will be to explore and exchange ideas for a system of governance, which will ensure ethnic security in Guyana.

The Chairman noted that there are perceptions of inequality among citizens concerning employment distribution, land allocation, the award of contracts, educational opportunities, loans and other types of capital finance. In this regards, the ERC has commissioned consultants to conduct scientific investigations into the policies governing the distribution of the abovementioned services, the Chairman said. He informed the executives of the completion of the research into employment practices in Private and Public Sector as well as Trade Union Organizations in Region Four. The Chairman stated that the findings and recommendations of the study will be presented to Parliament in the near future.

In response to the topic of equitable distribution of resources/economic opportunities, Chairman of Region Two, Mr. Alli Baksh, stated that it should not be concluded that infrastructure contracts are not being awarded on an equitable basis in Region Two, based on superficial analyses. He revealed that the contractors tendering for government projects are not representative of all the ethnic groups. In addition, eligibility for a contract is dependent on a contractor’s Income Tax and National Insurance compliance. Some contractors do not have these prerequisites and are deemed ineligible on this basis, not on the grounds of race, the Regional Chairman said. However, he added, the Regional Executive is working towards ensuring that perceptions of inequality are erased. The Regional Administration is encouraging contractors of all ethnic groups to apply for projects, particularly, Afro-Guyanese contractors. The Chairman added that infrastructure works are being conducted in all areas in the Region.

During the visit, Chairman, Commissioners and CEO visited several infrastructure construction sites. They visited the construction of several Drainage and Irrigation Checks in Queenstown, Aurora, and the site of the new Ferry Stelling at Supenaam. It was observed that all of the workmen working on the construction of Irrigation Checks are of Indo-Guyanese descend. Supervisors of the projects were asked how they procured their workforce. A few said that the workmen were family members, while others said that the workforce was drawn from the community in which they reside.

Responding to the issue of equitable distribution of employment in the Region, the Regional Chairman said that employment opportunities are available in the areas of sluice operation, building construction, and the operation of heavy duty machinery. He noted that these jobs require special skills and race is not a qualifying factor.

With reference to equitable distribution of educational opportunities, the Regional Education Officer who was present at the meeting revealed that the award of scholarships comes under the jurisdiction of the central Ministry of Education. He noted that the Region only makes recommendations based the eligibility of those students who apply for scholarships. He noted that scholarships are well advertised but few persons apply.

The Regional Chairman was asked to comment on the relationship among the ethnic groups in the region, since last year’s elections. He said that the peaceful atmosphere which pervaded before, during and after the 2006 elections still remains. The Chairman noted that persons, even at the political level, have shown commendable levels of maturity. Conflict issues which may arise are resolved at round table discussions, the Chairman noted.

During its call to the Regional Executive, the ERC mediated two complaints, resulting in the various parties agreeing to resolve their differences in a cordial manner.

Religious Round Table

Religious leaders from across the Region met in caucus to discuss issues pertaining to religious tolerance. Speaking at the opening segment of the Round table discussion, representative on the ERC from the Hindu Constituency, Pandit Ramkissoon Maharaj, told the gathering that the ERC is doing working assiduously to bring harmony to the fragmented pieces within the religious sects.

Chairman, ERC expressed gratitude to the religious community for the role it played in fostering the peaceful national and regional elections 2006. He noted that it was the religious leader who suggested what can be done to engender peace. Religious leaders were integral in the monitoring of the elections period, the Chairman stated.

The ERC Chairman told the gathering that the ERC is back in the Region because the work of building harmonious relations among Guyanese continues. He inquired into the level of religious tolerance among the religious community bearing in mind that three dominant religious groups exist in the region. Responses from the gathering varied. One of the major dissatisfactions with the level religious tolerance or the lack thereof was holding of fund raising and other sporting activities on sacred holidays. Some participants noted that there seems to be greater respect paid to Christian holidays such as Good Friday while holidays observed by other religious groups are not revered.

Participants also stated that some institutionalized rules are insensitive to the expression of ones religious persuasion. Reference was made to a Paramilitary Officer who wore his traditional religious garb and was escorted out of his place of employment. Another situation was brought to the fore concerning a Muslim man who applied for a job but was instructed to cut his bread as a prerequisite qualification. Yet another instance was raised about a Muslim young woman who was forced to refuse a job offer because her potential employer demanded that she desist from wearing her Shalwar and Keemar. Religious leaders emphasized the need for citizens to be allowed to practice their religion while maintaining the right to be employed.

Public Meeting

While in Region Two, the ERC also conducted a public meeting at the Regional Town Hall where residents were encouraged share their perceptions/opinions on ethnic relations. There were also given the opportunity to reveal instances, if any, of ethnic discrimination. There were generally no complaints of ethnic discrimination. However, residents bemoaned the unavailability of jobs in the region. They called on the Private Sector to develop economic initiatives to create employment, especially for young people.

Live Call-in Programme

The ERC Chairman and Commissioners were involved in a live call-in Programme at RCA Television. During the programme the Commissioners recapped the various activities they facilitated during the day and were asked to share their perceptions on matters relating to: youth involvement in fostering racial harmony, how religious groups can make accommodation for our religious diversity and the role of the Private sector in creating economic opportunities. The Chairman entertained calls from the public who give their opinions and shared their concerns on matters pertaining to the ERC’s mandate.

Members of the public drew Commissioners attention to what they perceived as inequitable distribution of employment at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) and the Guyana bank For Trade and Industry (GBTI).

On April 27, 2007, Commissioners Cheryl Sampson, John Willems and Rev. Roy Thakurdyal made ‘spot-checks’ to these institutions to investigate the complaints made by viewers of the television programme on April 26. (Attached is report of the Commissioner’s findings and observations)

Public Education and Awareness

The ERC’s Public Education and Awareness Unit conducted its Film Festival programme and the Female Windball Competition during the two-day visit.

Students from several primary and secondary schools congregated at two locations: Cotton Flied Secondary School and Johanna Cecilia to participate in the Film Festival programme. This activity was also conducted at the New Opportunity Corp where the students were involved in insightful discussion. Another public education programme, a Youth Forum, for out-of-school youth, was conducted at the Cotton Flied Secondary School.

The Anna Regina Multilateral School emerged winners of the Female Windball competition. Several schools, including the New Opportunity Corp participated in this activity.

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