The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has accused the government of exploiting flaws in the nomination process for the establishment of the Rights of the Child Commission, saying that it secured four instead of two nominees stipulated in law.
Chairperson of the parliamentary Committee on Appointments Gail Teixeira last week dismissed concerns about the process raised by the GHRA, which said the exercise demonstrated bad faith to civil society groups which had worked out an agreement for the establishment of the commissions at a multi-stakeholder forum last June. The GHRA also called for civil society representatives to refuse nomination to the commission until PPP/C Region 4 RDC Councillor Kwame McCoy’s name is withdrawn from among the nominees.
Responding to Teixeira, in a statement issued last Friday the GHRA said four nominees to the Commission, McCoy, Banmattie Ram, Shirley Ferguson and Suelle Findlay-Williams are government representatives. Teixeira asserted that the committee had not influenced the process and noted that two government ministries were each allowed a nominee, in keeping with the constitution. But the GHRA pointed out that McCoy was allegedly nominated by Human Services, Ram by Education, Ferguson by the “former national Committee on the Rights of the Child” and Findlay-Williams by Health.
On Ferguson’s nomination, the GHRA drew attention to the fact she was a nominee of the ‘former’ National Commission on the Rights of the Child and it questioned at what point in the process she attained the status of an automatic appointment. It noted that no mention was made in the Appointive Commission’s original Report to Parliament on any such arrangement and moreover, it questioned how she was nominated by the Human Services Ministry when she was apparently already automatically appointed by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child.
The GHRA also said Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Hydar Ally facilitated the meetings of the “Other organizations” caucus. In the second round of voting, it noted, Ally exercised a casting vote to ensure the election of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), an agency which it said falls within the purview of the Ministry of Health. The NCD subsequently proposed the nominee for the caucus. “The point is that by exercising a casting vote, the Chair/Min. of Health also determined the outcome of the “Other” category as well as having its own nominee in the Youth Caucus, which for an organisation with no business in the process at all, is quite an achievement,” it said.
Further, the GHRA pointed out that the National Commissions on Women, Disabilities, Children and Youth are all statutory bodies selected, funded and, in most cases, housed within respective Ministries. As a result, it questioned how they could be considered to be Non-Governmental Organizations or Civil Society Organizations.
Turning to McCoy, whose nomination Teixeira said was the will of the majority exercised in an indisputably democratic and transparent manner, the GHRA reminded of his ‘indisputable defeat” in the Youth Caucus, where he received 4 out of 24 votes. “The only transparency issue is how his name still found itself on the List of nominees,” it said.
The human rights group challenged the transparency of the process, noting the number of organizations and individuals who misunderstood or were confused by it. This also includes people who were nominated and organizations who led caucuses, it said. Additionally, every caucus needed to meet several times simply to understand what was required of them, it noted, adding that the Women’s Caucus had to request Teixeira to attend the caucus to explain the process to them.
In addition to the inclusion of the Ministry of Health, the GHRA also questioned the appropriateness of the choice of the President’s Youth Award as a caucus facilitator, since it is housed in the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sports. It said the group had little experience or knowledge of Youth NGOs, while noting their inability to get a quorum at the first meeting.
The ‘religious’ organizations, it noted, were exempt from caucus and three religious bodies allowed to make automatic nominations. Meanwhile, the ‘Services’ caucus never got off the ground and ended with some emergency procedure taking place organized by the Parliamentary Office, the GHRA said.
In defending the nomination process, Teixeira had said the constitution drafters were more concerned about the process of consultation and the identification of the entities to be consulted rather than the individual nominees to the Commission. The GHRA said the problem lies with the intention of those who currently implement the process of consultation, “and their obsession with controlling the outcome, thereby creating inconsistencies, anomalies and delays.” It referred to the failure to meet the June 2008 deadline for the creation of the Commission, accusing Teixeira of shifting blame for the nine-month delay in obtaining nominations to civil society. “The GHRA is of the view that the Appointive Committee owes a general apology to all the people who in good faith innocently wasted much time or got things wrong because of its inefficiency,” it said, adding that civil society, as a full participant, was never allowed to exercise any effective influence over the process.
According to the GHRA, early in the process the government received a memorandum from over 60 reputable civil society organizations, setting out detailed suggestions on the issue of structuring and establishing the Commissions. It said anyone interested in efficiently concluding the nomination process would have seized the opportunity to involve them.
Failure to do so, it added, was inexplicable, considering that by June 2008 the Appointive Committee was already way behind scheduled deadlines. “The bottom line is that the government needs to learn to deal with civil society as organizations and groups that are politically independent,” the GHRA said, noting that the obsession with dividing citizens into ‘supporters’ and ‘opposition’ ensures the ruling party will always remain suspicious of concepts such as ‘independence’ or ‘impartiality’, much less “accountability.” “Without movement on this front, we predict that similar Stakeholder initiatives in the future will negate the building of constructive partnerships so necessary for nation-building,” it noted.