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Irfaan Ali is not an “honest interlocutor” even by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s standard on the subject of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). Mr. Ali has come out swinging against the ERC as an excuse for his administration’s notable absence from the ERC’s “Virtual National Conversation on Improving Ethnic Relations” earlier this week. The nation agrees that the ERC needs to refocus on its mandate, become agile and relevant again but Ali’s People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPPC) compromised the ERC far more than that last few months ever would. Firstly, Stabroek News has astutely pointed out that the alternative facts adumbrated by Ali that the ERC “went into hiding” during the recent General and Regional Elections is far from accurate since the Commission issued statements on at least two occasions during the protracted process.
Secondly, in that very electoral process to which Mr. Ali speaks there is an infamous incident on the stairs of GECOM Hadfield Street location when Glen Hanoman, a PPPC supporter and lawyer was prevented by two female African police officers from ascending without proper identification or authorization. Mr. Hanoman turned to Mr. Ali who was close by and said, “Dr. Ali, mark these police faces, when the government change they must know their jobs are in jeopardy.” Mr. Ali said nothing in return to assuage the situation. The racial overtones were unmistakable. Additionally, several times during the very election cycle, avowed PPPC supporters from “Aunty Suckie” to characters like “Sofiyah Persaud”, said some of the most despicable things that should never be contemplated in the minds of human beings much less to be uttered. Where has this new Mr. Ali been “hiding” all this time?
Mr. Ali, at the apex of the PPPC’s power, has no moral authority to call out the ERC, however grave their failings, when his party has contributed to the Commission’s state. If there are Guyanese who are confused about the PPPC’s role on any question of race must read University of the West Indies scholar Kean Gibson’s work, Cycle of Racial Oppression, on the race politics of the Guyana Government during the tenure of Bharrat Jagdeo; read the Report on Minority Rights in Guyana by the UN Independent Expert Gay MacDougall. I refuse to submit here Guyanese academics who have written extensively on the subject matter for avoidance of the charge of bias. However, the 2010 research work of Freddie Kissoon stands the test of academic and legal scrutiny and is inescapable. In his seminal work, “Ethnic power and Ideological racism: Comparing presidencies in Guyana Kissoon argues convincingly, “Even if one argues that when old parties are defeated and newer ones win elections, there are changes in personnel, the situation in Guyana is the total public realms cannot be easily explained save for racial engineering.”
In another section Kissoon states, “There is a relentless, almost frenetic process of African disappearance in all dimensions of substantial power. And this decrease is a result of governmental edicts, policies by the ruling elites and attitudes of Indian power-brokers.” This could have been written last month, an indication that the more things change with the PPPC, the more they stay the same. The academic chronicles and catalogues, among infractions, how the then Guyana government refused “to cooperate on a project by the Ethnic Relations Commission to investigate racial bias in the award of state scholarships.” During that period the UNDP employed consultant Lawrence Latchmansingh to conduct a survey on how stakeholders perceive the work of the ERC. “Summarizing his findings, Mr. Lutchmansingh told the audience that it is the general feelings, he discovered in talking to African-based organizations, that the ERC is viewed as being a pro-government outfit that denies the practice of racism against African Guyanese by the Government. After his presentation and the revelations that came out of it, the ERC’s Chairman Juan Edghill told the audience that the consultant’s Report will not be made public.”
All of Guyana knew what the then ERC chairman, Mr. Edghill, meant to the PPP. Today he sits comfortably in the PPPC’s administration as a Minister and a member of Cabinet. Were the Guyanese people wrong about the ERC under the PPPC?
Sherod Avery Duncan, MP.