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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

REPORT ON ERC VISIT TO REGION 8- POTARO SIPARUNI
OCTOBER 19, 2007

MEETING WITH THE REGIONAL EXECUTIVES
“It is necessary for the Commission to meet with the elected officials and Administrative Arm of the regions to make sure that ethnic harmony is taking place,” said the Chairman of the ERC, Bishop Juan Edghill at a meeting with the Regional Executive Council (RDC) of Region Eight during the Commission’s visit on October 19, last.

The ERC visited the Region to apprise the Executive of its work over the past year, particularly the findings in five areas of research in:

  1. The award of academic scholarships
  2. The award of economic opportunities
  3. Employment practices
  4. Public procurement and tendering procedures
  5. An assessment of practices in land distribution

Before revealing the research findings, the Chairman reminded the Executive of the ERC’s visit to the Region in August 2006. He noted that the Commission was seeking to ensure that political parties did not use their campaign platforms to incite race hate during the elections. Referring to the calm that pervaded during that period, he said “all of Guyana is breathing a sigh of relief because of the peaceful elections.” The Chairman thanked the Executive for the role it played in fostering peace in the Region.

Continuing on the functions of the ERC, he stated that the Commission has the responsibility to review any legislation and administrative acts which are deemed discriminatory. He provided the example of the ERC’s intervention in the plight of several Seventh Day Adventist University of Guyana students who complained about an administrative policy of the University which stipulates that students outside of Region Six cannot readily access educational instruction at the institution. He said the students were attending the University Campus at Turkeyen, but could not attend classes on Saturdays because of their religious convictions. They were advised that the same classes were being held at Tain, Berbice Campus on other days, but were prevented from attending those classes because they were not residing in Berbice.

If there was no ERC, what would have happened? The Chairman asked, rhetorically.

DISCLOSURE OF THE RESEARCH FINDINGS

The award of Academic Scholarships
Chairman noted that all of the agencies offering scholarships, whether private or public, were investigated to determine if perceptions of discrimination in the provision of this service were factual. “We have found that the award of scholarships is fair and balance,” he stated.

Award of economic opportunities
The chairman said that one of the significant discoveries the researcher made was the inherent “perceptions” of discrimination in the minds of some segments of the population, which are not often substantiated by scientific evidence. For instance, he stated, a question on a questionnaire used to gather data for this research asked Afro-Guyanese respondents, “have you ever applied for a loan and was refused?” or “do you know of anyone who has applied for a loan and was refused?” Most of the responses, the Chairman said, were in the negative; but the perception, particularly among Afro-Guyanese is that they will be denied loans. The root of this perception needs to be addressed urgently, he charged.

The Chairman noted that while the research did not find any case of ethnic discrimination in the award of economic opportunities, the researcher indicated that some banks had what can be described as “lending portfolio”, which can give the perception of a particular bias.

Employment Practices
The Chairman noted that this research concentrated on Region Four because the Commission felt that the geographical dynamics of this Region could have given good perspective on employment distribution. He stated that the research revealed that more Indo-Guyanese have entered the Public Sector, but this is as a result of other races, particularly Afro- Guyanese, leaving the sector due to migration, retirement or for better remuneration in the Private Sector. He also revealed that the research showed that more Afro-Guyanese occupy the top level positions in the Private Sector.

The award of contracts and public procurement procedures
While there was no evidence of institutionalized policies to marginalize any group from the award of contract or from tendering and procurement systems, there are some recommendations for improvements, the Chairman told the Executive. He stated that one of the recommendations the researcher suggested to improve the system was that advertisements to tender for contracts should be widely distributed.

The Chairman inquired whether the Region Eight had access to any local television programme and it was reveal that there was none. In response he said that the Region should approach the Cable Operator in the area to broadcast advertisements of tendering opportunities and availability of contracts. He admonished the Regional Executive Officer, who is also the Chairman of the Regional Tender Board that he has the responsibility to ensure that ethical principles are upheld in this area.   
 
Land Distribution
One of the recommendations for improvements to existing practices of land distribution was the need for inter-agency cooperation, the Chairman stated. He said that agencies responsible for land distribution such as Lands and Survey, Geology and Mines Commission and Ministry of Housing needed to have more collaborative relations to better the land distribution systems.

Closing Presentation
The Chairman informed the Executive of the Afro-Guyanese Consultation from November 13 to 16, 2007. “We have to stop the road side gaff. We want to make sure that people are heard,” he stated.

He encouraged the Executive to ensure that the distribution of opportunities and services within the Region is done equitably. “It starts with you, the policies and administrative acts you carry out create that kind of ethnic security… let us make sure when we dispense, there is no feeling of exclusivity. People must feel included and apart of,” the Chairman reiterated, then open the floor for discussion.

Open Floor
Among the issues discussed was that of ‘coastlanders’ taking up residence in Amerindian communities. One Regional Councillor revealed that Amerindian women who married non-Amerindians or ‘coastlanders’ are marginalized when they return to their communities with their family. Explaining the Amerindians’ unease with ‘foreigners’, the Toshao from Campbelltown noted that ‘coastlanders’ are not readily welcomed into communities because their actions indicate to the Amerindian Council that “they are above the law.” The Regional Chairman stated that there was no policy of discrimination or exclusion of any citizen, on the part of the Regional Executive.

While on the floor, the Toshao expressed concerns about Amerindians not accessing contracts. In response, the officer responsible for infrastructural works in the Region noted that the RDC encourages contractors of all races to tender for contracts and even encourage those who have been successful to employ locals. He noted, however, that very often Amerindians labourers show patterns of unreliability. The ERC Chairman responded that while there should be a mechanism to ensure that contractors employ persons from a community where work is being done; hiring experienced persons to ensure structural soundness must not be compromised.   

On another note, a Regional Councillor recommended that an institutionalized mechanism in the form of a pledge and similar to the National Anthem, should be drafted and implemented. The Councillor said that should approach can mould the minds of children in an effort to eliminate ethnic disunity. The Chairman commended the Councillor for his pertinent recommendation. He added that while we wait for that mechanism to be adopted, there should be a call for the resuscitation of national songs which engender patriotism and harmony.  

THE PUBLIC MEETING
The Chairman began this meeting by apprising the residents of the genesis of the ERC. Summarising its main function, he said that the Commission is in place to ensure that there is social cohesion and equality of opportunities among Guyanese. He noted also that part of the work of the ERC is finding alternative dispute resolution through mediation and arbitration. Stating that this function is often under utilized, the Chairman said that the ERC encourages disputing parties to find amicable solutions to conflicts, unlike a court settlement which often leaves one party disgruntled.

Referring to the last visit the ERC conducted in the Region in August 2006, the Chairman stated that its aim then was to ensure that harmony prevailed, before, during and after the 2006 elections. “I am happy that we have come through the elections with calm and that it still prevails.” He admonished the residents to conduct themselves in the like responsible manner, which produced a peaceful 2006 election, during the imminent Local Government Elections.

The residents were made aware of the findings of the five areas of research the ERC commissioned. Summarising the research findings, the Chairman told the residents that no evidence of systematic approach or administrative policy of discrimination was found. “What we have found is that persons in their individual capacities would choose to assist or not,” he said, pointing to discretionary powers by officials in the distribution of resources. “But”, the Chairman stated “where ever we find such behaviour we need to sanction it.”

While the systems of distribution of resources may be fair, according to the research, the Chairman stated that the perception of marginalization is an issue that needs attention. At this juncture too, he illustrated this point by giving the example of the questions on the questionnaire on economic opportunities, which asked respondents if they have ever been denied a loan based on their race or whether they know of anyone who has experience such. At this meeting also, the Chairman stated that most respondents responded in the negative, but they still had the perception that they will be denied a loan on the basis of their ethnicity.

The Chairman informed the residents that a special ‘pull out’ of the Executive Summary of all the research will appear in the daily newspapers in the near future and encouraged them to “let their voices be heard” to policy makers concerning the recommendations the researchers have suggested. He identified two specific issues on which citizens should express voice their opinions: 1.) how advertising is done- whether newspapers or gazetted advertising constitutes notice to all, and 2.) whether identification of race should be mandated along with other bio-data such as age and gender. While some persons may argue that identification of race may cause discrimination, it may be one of the most effect ways of quantifying whether resources are being distributed equitably, he Chairman stated.

The residents were informed about the Afro-Guyanese Consultation slated for November 13 to 16 2007. The Chairman stated that any group or individual of such descent who feels marginalized can make presentations at the forum which will be held at the ERC. He also informed the residents of the engagement with the Toshaos and Senior Amerindian Officials on October 23 as well as the plan to engage all the races in a National Conversation.

Open Floor
The open floor discussion brought several issues to floor including deviant behaviours by students of the Mahdia Secondary School to human trafficking. The decline of morality among residents, both young and old, was also of grave concern to residents. It was disclosed that there is the prevalence of teenage pregnancy, underage drinking, drug abuse and human trafficking of minor females by popular businessmen.

Seeking to find the main contributing factor for what was described as a moral decline in Mahdia, one resident said, “in a community like Mahdia where gold is selling at $6000 per penny weight, education has no value, there is no regards for morals.”  “Moral standards have broken down for years,” another resident lamented. He called for collaborative efforts by the ERC and other agencies to stem to tide of immorality in the community.

The Head Teacher of the secondary school called for a Social Worker to be stationed in the community given the amalgamation of social ills which it grapples. He also suggested the establishment of a financial institution in Mahdia “to cater for the short falls when people need money,” since poverty is a contributing factor, he added.

In response to the outpouring of grief for the plight of the community, the Chairman told the residents that they have to make a concerted effort to establish moral codes within the community, beginning with the family. “If you take the interest and find the energy, you can make a difference… government cannot legislate morality, the community has to take a firm approach,” he implored. The Chairman also suggested that the community lobby for the establishment of a Community Development Council in Region Eight.

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