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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

NOVEMBER 6 - 8, 2007

As part of its continuous outreach programme, the ERC visited Region Six- East Berbice Corentyne and Region Five, West Coast Berbice, November 6-8, 2007. In addition to apprising the Regions of the work the Commission, the outreach was to garner a ‘hands-on’ impression of ethnic relations.

During the outreach to Region Six, the Commission conducted several activities including a meeting with the Regional Executive, three Town Hall meetings in New Amsterdam, Rose Hall and Corriverton respectively as well as a live call-in television program.

Speaking at meeting with the Regional Executive, the Chairman said “the ERC does not want to take a sit-back approach and then when there is a crisis, we react. We want to be proactive.” He added that the absence of complaints of ethnic discrimination is ideal, but that would only be possible once the ERC continues its proactive engagements with the Guyanese populace and make recommendations for necessary changes.

A tangible manifestation of the Commission’s proactive work, the Chairman said, was its response to complaints propagated in the media and other fora that there is widespread ethnic discrimination and marginalisation. Responding to these concerns, the Chairman stated that the ERC sought to commission research in five specific areas: the award of academic scholarships, distribution of economic opportunities, employment practices, public procurement and tendering procedures as well as land distribution.

Upon completion of these researches, the Chairman said that the claims of rampant discrimination cannot be substantiated. With reference to employment, contrary to allegations that Afro-Guyanese were being deliberately replaced by Indo Guyanese in the Public Sector, the former group created vacancies in that sector because of retirement, migration or assuming better jobs in the Private Sector, the research showed.

Despite the absence of evidence to support the claims of ethnic discrimination in employment practices, the research showed that there is room for improvement, the Chairman said. Specifically, how advertising is done for the availability of jobs. In fact, he said, the issue of broad-base advertisement was a recommendation which recurred in all of the researches. “Equal opportunity starts with everybody knowing and exercising the right to apply or not to apply,” the ERC head stated.
Referring to the research on economic opportunity, the Chairman said that there was no evidence to validate that banks were granting loans to some and discriminating against others. In fact, when the researchers attempted to get data on ethnicity of those who applied for loans and those who were successful, it was not available.

The Chairman posited that the unavailability of such records brings to fore a very important issue,. “How will we know whether resources and opportunities are being distributed equally is statistics on race is not available?” he asked. The Chairman suggested that the National Assembly would have to pronounce on this issue.

The award of scholarships in Guyana as well as the distribution of land is fair, according to the research, the Chairman said. He stated that the ERC was not interested in making ‘head-counts’ of the number of persons who successfully accessed opportunities or resources, but with the process which deemed those persons as qualified recipients. Whatever is the result after a fair and opened process, the Chairman said the ERC will be satisfied.

Public procurement and tendering is another broad area which the researchers found to be relatively equitable, the ERC head stated. However, he said, there is room for improvements that can be accomplished by the Public Procurement Commission, which should be established speedily.

Conclusively, the Chairman noted that research has shown that there is no evidence of institutionalized racism or a national policy which promotes marginalization of particular ethnic groups. Nevertheless, he suggested to the executives that where there is “some amount of fairness, there is room for even more fairness.”

After the meeting with the Regional Executives, the team traveled to Rose Hall to conduct the first Town Hall meeting. There the Commission met with the Mayor and Town Council as well as heads of civil society groupings. Later in the afternoon, the Commission also met with a large gathering in Corriverton which comprised the Mayor and Town Council, young people, religious leaders, women’s groups and other representatives of civil society.

Rev. Roy Thakurdyal chaired those meetings and opening the Rose Hall meeting, he noted that the outreach was undertaken by the Commission to sensitise participants of the work of the ERC as well as to understand from them whether ethnic relations are improving.

The Chairman explained the overarching function of the ERC, stating it is to halt ethnic discrimination and to improve relations among Guyanese. He said that the ERC is sensitive to allegations of claims of ethnic discrimination, thus it commissioned several researches to determine the reality in a scientific manner.
The Chairman added that the research reports have been handed over to the National Assembly, and he encourage the participants to impress upon their elected officials to legislate the recommendations put forward in the research for the strengthening of various systems regulating the distribution of resources and opportunities.

The ERC head reiterated that after the research was completed, no evidence of institutionalized racism was found, but where ever there is the use of discretionary power to favour one group as opposed to another, the ERC will discourage that kind of behaviour.

One representative at the meeting was interested in finding out how speedily recommendations from the ERC on different issues are acted upon by the relevant authority. Responding to this inquiry the Chairman said that the ERC reports to the National Assembly through its annual and other special reports. Further, he said, the National Assembly needs to determine and deliberate whether laws which have implication for improving of ethnic relations and equal opportunities, need to be amended. “We would have discharged our jobs when our views had been taken the parliament,” he added.

The Chairman referred to the Afro-Guyanese consultation which is designed specifically to look into their perceived needs. “Having received the information provided by the afro-Guyanese community, we will send it to the National Assembly and they will debate and deliberate on it to see where changes need to be made,” he said.

Before the close of the meeting at Rose Hall, some recommendations came to the fore concerning an intensification of the ERC’s outreach in Region Six. One participant recommended that the Commission should conduct monthly meetings in the area, while another suggested that the public education programme in schools needs to be strengthened.  The Chairman responded that the Commission has an ongoing programme in schools and Region Six has been the beneficiary of over 45 activities including the Female Windball Cricket Competition. The Youth Officer, attached to the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport also substantiated that the ERC has been conducted several activities in schools and youth groups to build social cohesion among the young people of Region Six.

The meeting at Corriverton saw the largest gathering of residents over the two-day visit to Region Six. The participants at that meeting were very keen on discussing issues of ethnic relations. The issue of religious tolerance was extensively discussed. Person felt that the predominance of the Muslim religion in Corriverton was creating some insensitivity for other religions. They noted that Muslim prayers are repeated five times per day through loud speakers and this in inconsiderate of the religious diversity which exists in Corriverton.

In response to this concern, the ERC Chairman suggested that there needs to be greater level of religious tolerance. “It is not about competition and fighting, it’s about practicing faith without demonizing each other,” he encouraged.
The Chairman also admonished the Executive of the Corriverton Municipality to dispense their duties as leaders in a manner that is fair. He said that good ethnic relations are everyone’s concern, but it begins with the administrative acts which are sensitive to the specific needs of everyone they administrative over.

The meeting at New Amsterdam was also chaired by Rev. Roy Thakurdyal who told the participants that the meeting was intended to give them an opportunity to air their views on ethnic relations or take any complaints they may have. The Chairman noted that the ERC was there to “audit the state of affairs in the Region.” “The ERC”, the Chairman said, “does not want to form its opinion by talking with politicians, but by talking with the people to get a first hand view of what is happening on the ground.”

He proceeded to give an overview of the legislative arrangements that were put in place for the establishment of the ERC and noted that it has the power of a quasi judicial body with the authority to recommend stern disciplinary actions against persons who are guilty of inciting racial hostility.

The Chairman thereafter outlined the recent preoccupations of the Commission, referring to its intense campaign for the prevention of pre and post election violence and the recent research it commissioned. Referencing the latter, the Chairman told the New Amsterdam residents that having concluded five areas of research; no empirical evidence is there to support a claim of institutionalized racism.

“What we have found is the use of individual prejudices which could create tension and unease- hence my call that we don’t use prejudices to govern and wherever we see those prejudices, we should cry out against it,” the Chairman stated. He added that the research was the first scientific analysis of its nature in the history of ERC and he advocated that it should form the basis for improving ethnic relations in Guyana.

The research reports were handed over to the Chairman of the Regional Democratic Council. 

NOVEMBER 8, 2007 
“In the financial field, the auditors come to check on your books, we are here to audit the state of affairs of ethnic relations,” the Chairman told the Regional Executive of Region Five at a meeting November 8, last. “You are the people who are spending government’s money, awarding contracts and giving out services - we have to make sure it is done without discrimination or discriminatory practices,” he added.

Continuing his opening remarks, the Chairman reminded the executives that the last time the ERC visited Region Five; it was interested in garnering recommendations for an initiative to prevent pre and post election violence. Since the 2006 elections, he said the ERC has continued its work, placing emphasis on gathering scientific data in areas persons claim are plagued with discriminatory practices. “We commissioned consultancies to find out whether the claims could be substantiated,” the Chairman stated. He noted that when the reports came back, there was no evidence of a central policy that propagates racism.

Responding on behalf of the region, the Regional Chairman said that the Council has generally abided by principles of equity and fairness. With reference to employment, he noted that the Region does not hire or fire anyone, but employment processes are handled by the Public Service Ministry. He added that from an administrative point of view, he is unaware of any discriminatory practices meted out to the people the Region has jurisdiction over, and he would be astonished if there are such claims. “This is not a perfect society, we all have to work together to reduce the conflicts,” the Regional Chairman stated.
During the open floor discussion, the below mentioned areas were raised:

  • Physical division of the races in into specific villages. Reference was made to Bush Lot which has a predominantly population of Indo Guyanese and Hope Town, with predominantly Afro Guyanese.
  • One Housing Officer, services Region Five and Six. There should be at least one officer per region, given the extent of housing schemes in Regions Five and Six.
  • The need for the establishment of Regional/District Land Selection committees which should comprise representatives from the parliamentary political parties and civil society.
  • Afro and Indo Guyana are unwilling to live new in housing schemes where one group predominates. 
  • Contractors who allegedly produce unsatisfactory works are not black listed, but are given additional contractors because they are allegedly politically favoured.
  • Infrastructural works, allegedly do not happen as the same rate in Afro Guyanese villages they do in Indo Guyanese villages.
  • The existence of political appointments in the Region- allegedly, persons who are less qualified supersedes others with higher levels of qualification
  • The cashing of vouchers are allegedly cashed in Indo Guyanese villages only

At the close of the discussion, Chairman of the ERC stated that it was against national development or strategy to segregate ethnic groups into specific areas.
He admonished the regional executive to work assiduously to bring come level of ethnic security within the region by performing their duties without bias.

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