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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Afro-Guyanese coalition at odds with ethnic relations body
-wants ethnic audit of govt contracts

Wednesday, June 21st 2006

A coalition of Afro-Guyanese empowerment groups recently announced it was boycotting the Ethnic Relations Commission's (ERC) Culture Fest 2006 because of dissatisfaction with it in a number of areas.

The culture fest was eventually postponed by the ERC.

In a paid advertisement published in Stabroek News earlier this month, the coalition informed that it had already given notice of "Ten reasons why the African-Guyanese community has withdrawn from the ERC-sponsored Culture Fest 2006."

The coalition is made up of the Pan African Movement, the African Welfare Conven-tion, the All African Guyanese Council, the Nubian Research Centre, the Guyana Rasta- farian Council and the IIA, which are affiliates of ACDA.

The African Cultural Development Association (ACDA) is not, however, responsible for the advertisement in any way. The advert did prompt a response by the ERC, which maintained that during its two years of work it diligently sought to promote racial, cultural and religious understanding among all groups.

In the advertisement, the coalition said it had advised the ERC of its position by way of a letter, dated April 3, 2006.

Among the reasons for a boycott, the coalition cited the ERC's "failure to address complaints by the African-Guyanese community," in-cluding a request for an ethnic audit of government contracts, and it said this was in breach of "significant portions" of the commission's constitutional mandate.

Among the cases it cited was a request by Justice in Guyana (JIG-UK) for a hearing on the Guyana Indian Heritage Association's publication, Indians Betrayed. It said that the complaint was ignored and alleged that this was a deliberate act to deny JIG-UK and its supporters a voice.

Substantiating complaints

But the ERC, in an apparent indirect response to the ad via a press release, explained that it acts as a quasi-judicial body and as such, when a complaint is made the commission requires the complainant to provide information to substantiate the complaint. It added that any delay in providing such information would negatively affect the speedy completion of the investigation.
In this instance, the ERC said JIG-UK had not provided the information necessary for the continuation of the investigation into the complaint. It added that the investigation had not been active because the information was not forthcoming.

The ERC also noted that it had a number of complaints that it could not investigate because of the lack of information.

The coalition's other objections to participation by African Guyanese in the ERC event include its disappointment with the race relations body's reluctance to produce an ethnic breakdown of criminal violence over the last 15 years. It said too that the ERC had not responded to a request to compile a listing (by value and ethnicity) of all post-1992 contracts awarded by government to see if there had been ethnic discrimination in the construction sector.

Additionally, the advert said the coalition had informed the commission of its disappointment "with [the ERC's] inability or reluctance to articulate a national approach to ethnic inclusion in all sectors of the economy" and it called for the ERC to encourage ethnic inclusion in the workplace, similar to the public efforts to encourage inclusion and ethnic quotas in the armed forces.

"In these circumstances, the African-Guyanese community cannot take part in the proposed Culture Fest, whether it is sponsored by the ERC or an affiliate..." it said.

The ERC, for its part, explained that based on the recommendation of the Constitutional Reform Commission, the elected representatives of Guyana in the National Assembly consensually passed Act No. 11 of 2000, providing for the establishment of the ERC, its functions and membership. The National Assembly also identified the groups and entities within those groups that should be consulted to nominate members for the ERC. Resolution No. 62 of the Seventh Parliament of Guyana, in its First schedule lists all the groups and entities within the groups that were invited to nominate members to the ERC.

The ERC said it has been mandated to investigate complaints of racial discrimination and make recommendations on the measures to be taken if such complaints are valid. The commission can also, of its own accord, investigate any issue affecting ethnic relations.

"The ERC has also been mandated to encourage and promote the acceptance and respect by all segments of the society of the social identity and cultural inheritance of all ethnic groups," it said, while explaining that the Culture Fest 2006 would see the diversity of the Guyanese people on display in a single space.
"The ERC acknowledges that as a people we face many challenges in bringing about ethnic harmony and security," it noted, adding that "it is however the task of all Guyanese to foster the harmony which we all seek."

© Stabroek News

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