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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’S VISIT TO REGION NINE- UPPER TAKATU, UPPER ESSEQUIBO
OCTOBER 24-25, 2007

The necessity of inter-agency cooperation among institutions responsible for land distribution is important to avoid conflicts among land owners. This point was underscored when a Regional Councillor of Region Nine raised concerns of the chaos that was created in the distribution of house lots in the Tabatinga community, at a meeting the ERC conducted with the Regional Executive during its outreach programme, October 24, last.

The Councillor revealed that the Tabatinga area had been occupied by scores of people for many years but without land titles. Recently, the Lands and Survey Department surveyed the area and subsequently the Minister of Housing conducted their standard random selection house lot distribution exercise. The Councillor said that the major problem with this exercise was that the Ministry treated the area as though it was a ‘maiden’ expansion, now being inhabited. Consequently, the house lots that the residents drew are currently occupied by other residents who have already erected permanent structures on the land, the Councillor revealed. He said that they are now in a quandary as to how they should proceed.

In his response to this issue, the Chairman of the ERC, Bishop Juan Edghill stated that one of the recommendations which came out of the research on existing practices of land distribution was the need for comprehensive inter-agency cooperation so that such conflicts can be avoided.  What was needed in this situation, he said, was collaboration between the RDC, the Ministry of Housing and Lands and Survey to regularize the area, instead of treating it as a maiden settlement as the Councillor noted. The Chairman indicated that the ERC can mediate in this conflict, acting under its alternative dispute resolution mandate.

The Chairman added that from the study commissioned on land distribution, no case of discrimination was found. However, there was a recommendation for the strengthening of the system by drafting of a national land distribution policy, which the researcher advocates will meet the required standard for equity.

The Chairman proceeded to inform the Executive of the findings in the other areas of research. He pointed out that in the area of economic opportunities, he was heartened that the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) had made a special concession for Amerindians to lodge household articles as collaterals to secure loans. The ERC head stated that while the research did not show patterns of ethnic discrimination by other financial institutions, some banks had what can be described as ‘lending portfolio’ which lends to a perception of bias.

Nevertheless, the Chairman stated, when all the researches were completed, claims of widespread discrimination and marginalization which was being perpetuated in the media, could not be substantiated. Invariably, he said, what can be seen is the special use of discretionary powers by some officials and this practice should be discouraged.

Another inadequacy, particularly in tendering and public procurement systems, was that the appeal mechanisms available to persons who have not had successful bids did not lend to feelings of confidence in the system. “In some cases, the same person who refused a tender, is the person who has to look into the appeal,” the Chairman clarified.     

In making systems foolproof from claims or perceptions of discrimination, how advertising is done- whether it is the availability of scholarships, jobs or contracts- needs careful consideration, the Chairman posited. “If there is going to be non-discriminatory practices, everyone must be informed of existing opportunities,” he said. “We are not really concerned with making head counts to determine parity, what we are advocating is an open process,” the Chairman added.

Apart from proper advertising, the Chairman noted that efforts must be made to build confidence among the people in the Region. “This confidence building must be an assurance that the system can work for you,” he said pointing to inherent perceptions in persons minds that they will be discriminated against despite not experiencing such in the past. “People must want to be apart of something because they know it will work for them,” he told the Executive.

Referencing the study on employment practices, the Chairman noted that the findings did not show the displacement of Afro-Guyanese from the Public Sector to accommodate more Indo-Guyanese. On the contrary, he said, the main reasons for them leaving were retirement, migration and better remuneration in jobs within the Private Sector. He added that the research showed there can be an improving in the positioning of Amerindians in the state sector.

The Chairman inquired of the employment practices within the Region and was informed by the Personnel Officer that notice of employment is advertised to all, persons shortlisted to fill vacancies are the most qualified and proper interview procedures are observed in the final stages of employment. The Regional Chairman substantiated this, stating that he has never heard of reference to “party-card identification” as a qualifying criterion for a job in the Region. “If this is being done,” he said, “it is not the policy of the Region.”

Summarising his report on the research findings, the ERC head said “it is good for Guyana that we didn’t find a pattern of ethnic discrimination.” “This is not to make us complacent,” he cautioned, “yes we have problems but this is the first attempt at addressing those areas of concerns.”

The Chairman of Region Nine, Clarindo Lucas commended the ERC on its work, during the past four years. He stated that he endorsed the move by the President to extend the life of the Commission.

During the ERC visit to Region Nine, the Commission also conducted a public meeting at the Arapaima Primary Schools where it met with residents to apprise them on its work and take in their concerns related to ethnic relations. The general feeling at that meeting was that there are not grave problems of ethnic discrimination in the Region. One resident was however peeved about the lengthy bureaucracy for some residents to receive house lots.

On October 25, the ERC Chairman made spot visits to the following private and public institutions:

  1. Various departments within the Regional Democratic Office
  2. Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI)
  3. Ministry of Education
  4. Neighbourhood Democractic Council
  5. Guyana Revenue Department
  6. Police Out-Post
  7. Regional Hospital
  8. The International Crossing site

Employees at these locations were given copies of the functions of the ERC and the supervising officers were encouraged to ensure harmony and good relations in the workplace.

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