If Bishop Juan Edghill is to be believed, then the first casualties of the budget cuts have been identified by the non-payment of their wages and salaries for May. These are the employees of the Ethnic Relations Commission.
When the National Assembly met to discuss the budget for this year the parliamentary opposition voted to cut the allocation to the ERC to one dollar. And there was a reason. The ERC is a constitutional body but the political opposition said that it was not constitutionally constituted at the time of its recent existence.
This has not been the first controversy involving the ERC. One of the earlier issues involved the chairmanship of the body. The Guyana Council of Churches had voted to have Bishop Edghill to cease being its representative on the ERC. However, the government intervened and insisted that Edghill remain on the Ethnic Relations Commission.
But even then, the government adopted measures to ensure that Edghill remained as head of that commission. It helped create an alternative to the Guyana Council of Churches and sought to perpetrate Edghill’s tenure to infinity because there never was an effort to have the commission properly reconstituted.
Be that as it may, the body being a constitutional body, was allowed to exist. It mandated certain investigations and it travelled countrywide before the elections, discussing the laws and the penalties of ethnic discrimination. There was a large focus on conflict resolution but it was strange that when all this was happening the actual commission had been reduced to three people—Edghill, John Willems and Carvil Duncan.
Edghill and Duncan emerged as pro-government. They were seen as refusing to take any decision that would make the government appear in a bad light. And worse, although the government was found guilty of discrimination there was no criticism from the ERC. The case of discrimination was uncovered by a survey conducted by Donald Rodney into the award of scholarships.
It was a damning report; there were cases of Government Ministries refusing to release information to the investigating team although there was clear evidence that the investigation was being done at the insistence of the Ethnic Relations Commission.
When the report was made to the ERC, despite all the talk of its legal power the commission did nothing. People said that it might have been because a government Ministry was involved and because the ERC was beholden to the government, its paymaster.
Be that as it may, it is unfortunate that there is the belief that political control is exerted at every corner. The opposition parties say that they have not been unkind to the ERC. They point to the extension of the life of the ERC despite their objections; they point to the operations, to the withdrawal of their representatives on the commission and they all conclude that the ERC was not as independent as it should be. But they never sought to have funding withheld.
This time around the organization has been identified for budgetary cuts. In any country such a body would have been welcomed. Surely the political opposition would not have descended on this body without good reason.
When this happens the organization must review its operation. There were warnings for a review but these went unheeded because there must have been the feeling that talk is cheap and that the political opposition is nothing but a toothless poodle.
The commissioners are all employed or have independent earnings. The staff is another kettle of fish. They are the ordinary public servants; they are the people who went begging for the restoration of the financial allocation. To say that they are compromised is poppycock. They are mere clerks. They are of their own political persuasion. Speaking with anyone would not compromise them.
Even the commissioners have a political view. It is when it comes to doing the work that one must appear to be impartial.
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