ERC must be more proactive in tackling racism – House Speaker

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The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) was on Monday urged to be more proactive in its operations and fulfilling its mandate, as reports from the years 2018 to 2020 were handed over to the National Assembly.

On hand to receive the 2018 to 2020 reports from the ERC was Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir. In his address, Nadir expressed disappointment at the slow pace with which the reports were produced.

“I want to say to all the Commissions. Had I been a sitting, elected Member of Parliament and I don’t see a report for the year, I am objecting to the budget for the next year. Because we can’t have three reports in your case coming at one time.”

“For us to be effective, its reports, evaluations, reconsideration, new recommendations, new decisions, funding and the work continues. But if we have to have a cycle of a number of years before we go through these changes, then we’re going to be in a time lag,” Nadir said.

While he acknowledged that the ERC will not solve all problems definitively, Nadir was of the view that the Commission could be more proactive. This is particularly so when it comes to fulfilling its sensitisation mandate.

“I know your term has expired, but one of the things that have always been lacking in the ERC is a proactive approach when dealing with the issue of ethnic relations. Reports after reports you look at, it’s a mechanical exercise. We do events, do we do events to do events or do we do events because we have to achieve an objective?”

“So, the programming aspect of these Commissions, I don’t see the proactiveness of them. And if we’re to move forward as a country that is serious about the issues that confront us, whether gender or age, we have to ensure there are professional programmes in place to achieve objectives,” Nadir said.

Meanwhile, ERC Chairman John Smith noted that the reports will encapsulate the work that has been done by the Commission. According to Smith, the final report of recommendations and concerns will be particularly useful as a guide to the next Commission that takes over from them.

“It gives me great pleasure, because we know that we prepare them and we wanted an official record. And dealing with the press, some had a lot to say about the years in between. So I’m happy they can view the handing over and our work is now done,” Smith said.

The National Assembly is currently in recess until October 10, after which sittings will resume. It is understood that the ERC reports will be laid in Parliament at the next sitting after the resumption.

Under Article 212D of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, the ERC has 24 functions – one of which is a mandate to investigate complaints from citizens across the country where acts of alleged ethnic discrimination have been committed. Also, the Commission is mandated to enforce the Racial Hostility Act and the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act.

The ERC has, however, come in for its share of criticism, with many unsatisfied by its input during the volatile post-elections period following the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

Likewise, the body again was highly criticised in the aftermath of the brutal killing of Joel and Isaiah Henry, followed by the murders of Haresh Singh and Prettipaul Hargobin in West Coast Berbice last year.