The Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, accompanied by Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, and PPP/C Parliamentarian, Bishop Juan Edghill, welcomed a courtesy call by the newly- appointed members of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
The Leader of the Opposition welcomed the Commissioners, led by Bishop, Dr John Smith, and encouraged them to engage in a fact-based approach in adhering to their mandate, and to address issues before them in an expeditious manner.
He also reminded the Commissioners that the Constitution empowers them to conduct investigations on their own accord. The Commission was encouraged to examine the studies done by previous ERC in the public service, contracts and procurement, and the allocation of house lots.
The engagement saw frank and open discussions on race relations and matters impacting on ethnic insecurities in Guyana. Discussions included adhering to the objectives of fairness and transparency. In this regard, the Leader of the Opposition stated that the PPP/C does not support the introduction of a quota system. He reaffirmed that the PPP/C stands by the principle of meritocracy, as key to employment in the State (public) and private sectors, as well as to opportunities for scholarships.
With specific reference to the hiring of staffers at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the PPP/C’s concerns related to the need for fair and transparent hiring practices based on merit.
The Leader of the Opposition stressed that the State has a responsibility to give fair and equal treatment to its citizens and to ensure equal access to goods and services.
The Leader of the Opposition also repeated the PPP/C’s call for equal treatment for the 7,000+ sugar workers, who have lost their jobs as a result of the closures of the Wales, Rose Hall, Skeldon and Enmore sugar estates. In this regard, the Leader of the Opposition, a former president himself, outlined policies that were implemented to support communities in Region 10, specifically Linden and communities along the Berbice River, because of problem relating to the bauxite sector. Those policies and subsidies remain intact today in those areas. He, therefore, urged the Commission to look at what needs to be done to ensure that the sugar workers benefit from equal treatment.
Concerns were also raised about the almost 2,000 Amerindian Community Service Officers (CSOs), whose services were terminated post May 2015. The Opposition Leader informed the Commissioners that with the loss of employment of these CSOs, over $700M has been withdrawn from their communities, resulting in devastating repercussions for the people living in those areas.
Much of the discussion saw time given to the concerns about the state and welfare of Afro-Guyanese and the ERC was requested to do a fact-based study on the periods 1964-1992 (under the PNC administration), 1992-2015 (under the PPP/C administration) and 2015 to present (under the APNU+AFC Coalition government); and facilitate a public discussion on the findings. The Leader of the Opposition stated that if this study was done, it would find that Afro-Guyanese did better under successive PPP/C governments.
The Leader of the Opposition assured the Commissioners of the PPP/C’s full cooperation moving forward.