The PNCR has long had an issue with the composition of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). They questioned the composition of the Commission arguing that it is not in keeping with the provisions of the constitution and with the decision to extend the life of the commission without resolving the controversy over the selection of commissioners.
But if the opposition had a problem with the manner in which the life of the commission was extended or with the selection process of the commissioners, this should not have led to cutting the budget of the commission proper because in so doing, the opposition parties have effectively vitiated a constitutional commission.
If the manner in which the government extended the life of the commission was in the estimation of the opposition parties unconstitutional, these parties could have sought constitutional redress. The government itself recently sought constitutional redress in relation to the actions of the opposition in parliament and it lost that court action.
So there was no reason why the opposition could not have moved towards the courts to correct what they believed was an unconstitutional commission. There was no need for them to pick up their sword and slash the entire Budget allocation to the commission thereby effectively shutting the body down and placing its administrative staff on the breadline.
The opposition parties failed to make a basic distinction. They failed to distinguish between the organization proper and its office holders, that is between the ERC proper and its commissioners. If it had made this distinction, it would have realized that its actions were punishing those who had nothing to do with the selection of the commission and that the collateral damage that it did was unnecessary and unwise.
Many years ago, the main opposition party had a problem with the extension of the employment of a retired commissioner of police. It wanted someone else appointed as commissioner. Suppose then the opposition had the majority that it now has. Would it have cut all the funding for the Guyana Police Force simply because it had issues with the manner in which the holder of the office of commissioner was extended?
There was also, in the past, a difference between the opposition and the government over who should be substantively appointed as Chancellor. Imagine if in order to impose its choice on the government, the opposition had opted to cut substantively the funding of the judiciary to the extent where it would have disrupted the wheels of justice administration?
By logical extension, even if the opposition had issues with the composition of the ERC, it was reckless to have cut all funding for that body more so when there was an option of filing a constitutional motion to vitiate the selection of the commissioners without effectively dissolving a constitutional commission.
The problems the opposition has with the ERC cannot also be blamed on the existing commissioners who accepted the extension of the life of the commission. They were not responsible for the extension of the life of the commission or its composition.
Through legal action, the opposition could have effectively paused the work of the commissioners without affecting the institution itself. However, the opposition seemed more interested in exercising its power with the effect that it has now effectively closed that body down.
Not only that, but by agreeing to meet with the staff, it has opened to question whether the staff is liable to be perceived as beholden to the opposition parties since they approached these parties to reinstate funding to save their jobs.
The staff out of desperation went to meet the opposition parties perhaps not realizing how this action could compromise perceptions about their future independence. The opposition parties should not have met with the staff. They should have discouraged such contacts.
It is very sad that workers are now going to be put on the breadline, whichever way it is looked at. Even if somehow the funding is restored, the independence of the commission has now been called into question and therefore the entire ERC will have to be reconstituted, including its administrative staff.
There was never any need to cut the funding of the ERC. The amount allocated to the ERC is not an exorbitant sum relative to the whole budget. Yet now the poor staff of the ERC is facing the possibility of being sent home when all it would have taken is just about 100 million dollars to continue the work of the ERC.
It is unfortunate what has happened to the staff of the ERC. Many of them would have bills to pay and other financial obligations to meet and perhaps as gesture of remorse the opposition parliamentarians can donate their fat monthly parliamentary salaries to these workers or alternatively can ask the staff to send to their parties’ headquarters their monthly utility bills so that they can take care of it at least until the staff can find alternative employment.
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