Ever since the life of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) came to an end and President Bharrat Jagdeo decided to extend the operation there has been objection by the political opposition, especially the People’s National Congress Reform. In keeping with the statutes the political parties, the non-governmental organizations, the religious organizations and social groups were all asked to name representatives to the ERC.
All was well until the life of the commission came to an end. Of course there was a level of dissatisfaction with some members of the commission. There was the view that some of the commissioners were really political animals, incapable of dealing fairly and squarely with issues of discrimination. Chief among them was the Chairman of the Commission, Juan Edghill.
One would have expected that given Guyana’s ethnically diverse community and the importance of the Ethnic Relations Commission, the government would have moved to avoid any controversy. It should have agreed to a reconstituted commission.
Instead, the Bharrat Jagdeo administration insisted on the Ethnic Relations Commission being reconstituted as it is. And this insistence came even as the Inter-Religious Organization insisted that Juan Edghill was no longer its representative. This is an interesting development. In the first instance, Edghill was nominated by the Inter-Religious Organization. If that body says that it no longer wanted its nominee, then the government should have acceded to its request.
However, the Jagdeo administration insisted that it wanted Edghill. Unless there was some kinship, then the government should not have rushed to keep Edghill. The mere idea that it did that and more created some raised eyebrows.
In the end, the other organizations, with the exception of the Guyana Trades Union Congress and the private sector, withdrew their nominees. At that stage the commission was all but defunct. The dissatisfaction of the political opposition has seen a cut in the budgetary allocations for this organization.
What the opposition is saying is that it is not prepared to accept the ERC as it is currently constituted. And it has good reason to adopt this position. For one, the Chairman could not be trusted to be impartial. He helped organize the Appreciation Day programme for President Bharrat Jagdeo. That was a quasi-political event. Jagdeo was leader of a political slate at the elections; he held a partisan political view and above all, he signaled that he was not prepared to accede to some of the requests of the political opposition, regardless of how trivial.
By supporting this public acclamation of Jagdeo, the ERC was simply saying that it had stepped beyond the realm of neutrality.
There is more. There was the Latchmansingh Report which more or less confirmed some of the things that the political opposition was saying about the ERC. In fact, it was a most damning report. In the wake of this report, there was no move to modify the ERC.
And as if to show that the Chairman of the ERC was not the impartial figure he should have been, there was his presence on a political platform. And this happened while Edghill was still chairman of the ERC. In the end, Edghill resigned as chairman, but the veil of impartiality had already been destroyed. And after the budget cuts, members of the ERC joined government media employees to protest.
Guyana needs an Ethnic Relations Commission. Yet, for all the talk of racial tensions, never once has the ERC been moved to take action against anyone. It is either the society is not as ethnically divided as one may want to believe, or the ERC was merely there to mouth platitudes.
The staff members took a decision to meet with the political opposition and Edghill, who should no longer have anything to do with the ERC having resigned as its chairman, hosts a press conference to chastise those workers. He accused them of being compromised. Those who protested the budget cuts and by extension, protested against the opposition, were equally compromised.
It should come as no surprise that the Alliance for Change, one of the partners in the political opposition, says that it has no regrets to the budget cuts.
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