-Commission recorded extensive list of achievements during period- ERC
The three (3)-year-term of the Board of Commissioners who were installed in their respective posts in 2018 at the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has come to an end after recording an extensive list of achievements during this period.
According to a press statement from the ERC, its outgoing Chairman, General Bishop, Reverend Dr. John Oswald Smith returned to private life, and extended heartfelt gratitude on behalf of fellow Commissioners to the thousands of citizens (as stakeholders), the diplomatic community and staff of the ERC with whom Commissioners interacted since it began work in April, 2018.
The term of the Board of Commissioners ended on Friday April 23, 2021.
It was noted that despite the successes over the past three (3) years, the ERC had also encountered a few stumbling blocks along the way, the most prominent being the deadly COVID-19 pandemic which severely interrupted its public awareness field work in 2020.
The ER reminded that following a hiatus of seven years, the re-constituted Board was sworn in February, 2018 with Reverend John Smith elected Chairman and Major-General (ret’d) Norman Mclean as Deputy Chairman. Other Commissioners who took the oath of office were Barrington Braithwaite, Ruth Howard, Hajji Dr. Roshan Khan, Pandit Deodat Persaud, Ashton Simon, Rajkumarie Singh, Neaz Subhan and Norris Witter.
“Commissioners met a depleted staff complement of fourteen manning the secretariat. Steps were taken to augment the Administrative, Media Monitoring, Public Awareness, and Investigative Units to over thirty staff members. Millions were spent to retool and upgrade technical equipment and resources required to execute the work of the Commission.”
In re-introducing itself to civil society, and to encompass all groups, the ERC stated that its new Board (2018) met with representatives of the ten constituencies represented on the Board of Commissioners- Christians, the Private Sector, African Guyanese, Women, Muslims, Youth, the Indigenous Peoples, Hindus, Indian Guyanese and the Labour Movement.
The Commission also met with Heads of the Disciplined Services, the Inter-Religious and Men’s groupings to obtain concerns and suggestions to promote a more cohesive society. In yet another initiative during 2019, Commissioners met with members of the Diplomatic Community resident in Guyana to explore areas of collaboration.
“Commissioners fanned out to the ten administrative regions meeting Mayors of the outlying towns, officials of the Regional Democratic Councils (RDC’s) and thousands of citizens to obtain their concerns on obstacles preventing national harmony and suggestions to remove them. The ERC embarked on almost sixty outreaches during 2018 and 2019 to promote its mandate ranging from workplace meetings at various public and private sector agencies, to expositions and stakeholder meetings. The outreaches included visits to the hinterland communities of Konashen, Paramakatoi, Kamarang, Karasabai, Annai, Lethem, Mahdia, Mabaruma, Port Kaituma and Moruca.”
The Commission also carried out humanitarian work and provided assistance to residents of elderly homes, victims of domestic violence and a children’s home. The far-away indigenous community, home of the Wai-Wais, located at Konashen, Gunns, Region Nine also received similar support.
“In a signature move to promote tolerance, understanding and unity among Guyanese, the Commission launched the first phase of its Harmony Campaign at the Guyana Pegasus in January, 2019. The launch was well-attended by government officials, members of the opposition, foreign dignitaries and members of civil society. Close to a dozen, novel public awareness initiatives, were unveiled at the launch including billboards, a revamped ERC Website, four new Public Service Advertisements (PSA’s), Posters for schools and workplaces, a Harmony Song performed by Guyanese Artistes Tshana Cort and Mark Ferdinand, brochures and a cell phone App to send complaints.”
According to the ERC, it is noteworthy to mention that the representation of one PSA to promote togetherness was adopted with a similar thrust by a private company.
The Commission’s re-activated Investigative Unit received and addressed 225 complaints during 2019 and 2020, of which approximately 170 were fully investigated and closed while some are still pending.
“The much-publicised complaint from the then opposition PPP/C on the hiring practices at GECOM was received and investigated by the ERC. A report was compiled and handed over to the political party in March, 2019. However, the ERC, without subpoena powers, was unable to summon top officials of GECOM and thoroughly investigate all aspects of the complaint.”
The ERC further stated that after “exercising considerable restraint”, the Commission, for the first time since it was established in 2002, commenced legal action in 2020 against alleged violators under the Racial Hostility and Representation of the People Acts to discourage the growing, alarming trend of racial incitement, especially on social media.
The run-up to the 2018 Local Government and March, 2020 General Elections were also monitored and the Commission was granted Observer Status to monitor both elections on E-Day and the body pronounced on the smooth polling which saw no major incidents involving voters and the conduct of the elections.
“Following the No Confidence Motion in December, 2018 and the holding of deferred general elections in March, 2020, the Commission worked assiduously to mitigate the impact of those events. The ERC, in February, 2020, successfully obtained the agreement of the eleven (11) Political Parties contesting the elections to sign its “Code of Conduct” to commit to clean campaigning. ERC Elections Monitors were also assigned to attend campaign meetings in the run-up to the 2020 general elections.”