President David Granger, was on Friday paid a courtesy call by members of the newly-constituted Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).
The Commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to working as a collective to fulfill the mandate of this important constitutional body.
During the meeting, which was held at the Ministry of the Presidency, the Head of State, according to a statement, said that the ERC is perhaps the single most important commission in existence in Guyana at this time; noting that elsewhere in the world, there is a resurgence of xenophobia and disorder based on ethnic differences. He said that the resuscitation and work of the ERC therefore, is preventative action to ensure that ethnic harmony is maintained.
“Without a greater sense of social cohesion, this country will remain unequal and anything we try to achieve, politically or economically, will be difficult…Society has the potential for social cohesion, but we must not allow divisive elements to separate us…there is more that unites us than separate us,” he said.
The President also emphasised that while the work of the Commission will never be completed, the commissioners can do enough to hand over to those who will come after them to ensure that future generations live in a society that is harmonious and where groups respect each other. He reminded the Commissioners that a lot will depend on the advice of the ERC and told them that they will be expected to conduct outreaches and work to promote the message and practice of social cohesion.
He also urged the Commissioners to ensure that their service is tailored to meet the needs of the indigenous population. “You cannot ignore the peculiar reality in Guyana, whereby a large part of the population communicates in languages that people in other parts of the country cannot comprehend,” President Granger said.
Meanwhile, Chairperson of the ERC, Bishop John Smith informed that since its resuscitation, the ERC has been flooded with requests. Some of the main issues that engaged the Commission’s attention were the allegations of discrimination at Mae’s School, which has since been resolved, and claims of ethnic imbalance at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). The Chairman also informed that the Commission is currently refining its work plan, looking at its legal framework and recruiting to bring its staff complement to working strength.
Major General (ret’d) Norman Maclean, who is a member of the Commission said that despite the challenges, the Commissioners are committed to working as a team to ensure that social cohesion is truly realised. This, he said, is the main objective of the work programme that is being drafted. Similar sentiments were also expressed by the other Commissioners.
In February, President Granger swore-in the 10-member Commission after a seven-year hiatus. The members are: Bishop John Smith (Chairperson), Barrington Braithwaite, Ms Ruth Howard, Roshan Khan, Major General (Ret’d) Norman McLean, Pandit Deodat Persaud, Ashton Simon, Ms Rajkumarie Singh, Neaz Subhan and Norris Witter.
The Commission initially comprised representatives from seven different constituencies, but in 2015 it was increased to 10.
The ERC is a constitutional body established under the Herdmanston Accord. It works with persons and agencies to promote harmonious ethnic relations.
The Commission also deals with complaints, promotes training in racial harmony, and fosters a sense of security, among all ethnic groups.
The Commission had been virtually dysfunctional since 2011 when then Opposition Leader Robert Corbin had secured an injunction against the body, barring the Chairman and two Commissioners from taking any decision, recommendation or issuing any direction on behalf of the constitutional body.