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I welcome the news that there will be a partnership between the United Nations (UN) and the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) to begin a national stakeholders outreach in having frank, honest and open conversations on race in this country, the input of which can influence an inclusive approach to governance. It is about time!
The UN/ERC initiative would be consistent with universal declaration of equality and Guyana’s political system of governing based on “inclusionary democracy” as per Article 13 in the Constitution. This declaration was signed into law (2001) almost two decades ago, but the most we have achieved beyond this is talking about inclusion, calling for implementation, and the present President setting unconstitutional requirements before he engages the Leader of the Opposition.
The UN acknowledges race as an important characteristic of human existence. This body seeks to promote racial equality, as adumbrated in its Universal Declaration on Human Rights, by removing all forms of barriers/discrimination that would hinder same. Given our historical experiences of racial conflicts, as a member-state, Guyana’s adoption of these principles could aid in the creation of better policies, programmes and laws.
Race must be considered a premier developmental factor in national planning and a mechanism to confronting racism. The National Census requires of us the identification of race as part of its clusters in calculating data of the various demographics in our society. This data should not only be used for accumulation or seen as assessment of electoral value. Data on race must be used to play a fundamental role in informing effective and efficient planning at all tiers of government. It is something we must demand of our elected representatives.
There is also the need to disabuse the notion that highlighting discriminatory practices against groups and calling for racial inclusion is tantamount to racism. The demand for inclusion, respect and dignity is not racism. Racism speaks to the enactment of policies, programmes, laws and other acts designed to deprive a person or group their rights and equal participation as citizens of society.
As a people of diverse strains it is to our collective well-being working for the realisation of bi-partisanship and inclusion to create the society we deserve; to bring about effective and accountable representation, regardless of racial identity and which group/party is in office. Whether a president, regional chairman, mayor, etc, secured office by virtue of racial majority voting, being elected to office gives no person or race the right to discriminate against another group, yet this has been a practice.
The majority has no constitutional right or privilege to control or dominate, equally as the minorities must reject any notion/practice to be led, dominated and marginalised. Our racial diversity should also not fall prey to the notion that representation based on racial identity equals good governance, inclusionary government, shared government, or government of national unity.
Laws, accompanied by supporting systems, are put in place to attend to the people’s wellbeing and once adhered to should bring about the much-touted desire for good governance and national unity. But laws and systems can only work when they are activated by the people. It is a disregard for the laws to accept a government discriminating against any group on the pretext that such can be corrected with the racial other winning the presidency or being in the executive.
The ERC should have been functioning and given the appropriate resources, including staff, to advance positive race relations. Where previous post 2001 PPP/C administrations failed to use their parliamentary majority to realise this, the Opposition majority (2011-2015) and Coalition Government should have seen to it. It is not good enough to talk about national unity and social cohesion without acknowledging the right of all to proudly identify, air their grievances and their unique needs addressed in the overarching outlook for development.
If commissions like the ERC are allowed to work, ethnic organisations like the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC), African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), Amerindian People Association (APA), would be able to present their cases of discrimination to this body for investigation and remedied, once proven. Aggrieved individuals have equal recourse. The ERC’s work is supposed to be submitted to the National Assembly and this is not by accident. This allows the nation’s highest decision-making forum and its lawmaking arm oversight responsibility and opportunity to strengthen and deepen the ERC’s role in society.
We live in a representative democracy. As such it allows for representation based on race and competence. We are governed by a Constitution that guarantees pride in the freedom of association and prohibits discrimination for exercising such right. It is not either or, it is both. This nation’s interest would be best served if persons strive to resist the temptation of domination by the minority or majority and work towards creating a level playing field built on equality for all. This universal principle is enshrined in our laws, awaiting concerted effort and singular voice in demanding and ensuring its activation. The UN/ERC proposed engagement presents the opportunity.