Feb 28, 2021 News
…. $150K “COVID Relief”
– Commissioners and staff received COVID-19 packages, other benefits before meeting
Kaieteur News – Meeting minutes from the Ethnic Relations Commission’s (ERC) November 26, 2020 meeting, where the granting of a $150,000 bonus for Commissioners and $100,000 for ERC staff was determined, contradicts the Chairman, Reverend John Smith’s claims that the allocation was for “COVID-19 relief.”
Last week, Smith had refuted comments made by Commissioner, Haji Roshan Khan, in a letter published in Kaieteur News’ February 15, 2021 edition, where Khan claimed that ERC Commissioners sought to grant themselves an excessive Christmas bonus of $150,000 and $100,000 for ERC staff which went against the government’s mandate of a $25,000 bonus for persons in statutory bodies.
Smith responded to Khan’s allegations in a letter published in Kaieteur’s February 23, 2021 edition, where he said, “I am not wont to respond to every missive or contention, but the grave and libellous allegations of impropriety levelled against me as Chairman are meant to impugn my character and plunge the present Commission into disrepute.”
The Chairman had claimed that at the statutory meeting on November 26 last year, Commissioners voted by the majority on several measures, given that funds were available. He said that it is customary that at year-end, an honorarium is given which is an ex-gratia payment and “in this case was for COVID-19 relief.” He said that the payment was approved following the majority decision for staff members and Commissioners of the ERC, including Khan to receive the relief.
However, the meeting’s minutes which were seen by this publication make no reference to COVID-19 relief. In the minutes, it is recorded that Commissioner [Ruth] Howard advanced a motion to pay an honorarium to all Commissioners and staff in the sum of $150,000 and $100,000 respectively, “as a customary practice of the Commission.” The motion was seconded by Commissioner [Barrington] Braithwaite and it was collectively proposed that Commissioners and staff will be paid the honorarium as a customary practice depending on the availability of funds. The motion was approved by a majority vote, but it must be noted that one Commissioner, [Deodat] Persaud, abstained from voting on the motion. This paper learned that he and Khan were the only Commissioners to refrain from accepting the money.
In a letter to the press, Commissioner Khan also responded to the Chairman’s claim that the money given was for COVID-19 relief and not a bonus. “While I do not wish to have a public debate with the Chairman of the ERC,” Khan stated, “I cannot comprehend that a man of his caliber—a servant of the Most High God—will lie to the world, to the country, to the Speaker of Parliament, to the President of Guyana, etc., that the amount of $150,000 for the Commissioners and $100,000 for the staff was allocated for COVID-19 relief. In actuality, the monies of $100,000 and $150,000 were, in fact, a Christmas bonus and not a COVID-19 gift! “
He added that the motion that was voted upon was strictly for holiday bonuses and COVID-19 packages would have already been proffered to the Commissioners and staff at the time of the statutory meeting. They also benefitted from alternate workdays and “work from home” privileges.
Khan contested that the Chairman’s utterances in his February 23 response, are essentially an outright excuse to escape the fact that the money allocated to the ERC is being wasted, without justification. “To me, taxpayers’ dollars is sacrosanct and a special gift from the Government of Guyana to the ERC and hence, it must be spent wisely at all times,” Commissioner Khan contended.
Kaieteur News would have reported that the body, which is tasked with improving ethnic relations within the country, has received over $900M in the past seven years with little accountability for those funds.
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