NGOs briefed on make-up of Ethnic Relations Commission

The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) should aim at promoting the elimination of all forms of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton told representatives from different organisations at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre yesterday.

While 165 different entities were invited by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Appointments to join the discussion and starting of the selection process, only a fraction attended; more than half of the seats were unoccupied.

“Among many of its [ERC] functions it is very important to our society that we provide quality opportunity for persons of all the different ethnic groups, harmony and good relations between each person that will be so for many years to come,” said Norton, who chairs the committee.

He said the ERC should also aim at discouraging persons, institutions and political parties from indulging in, advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices on the grounds of ethnicity.

Part of the gathering yesterday at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre
Part of the gathering yesterday at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre

He noted that the ERC shall consist of not less than 5 and no more than 15 members, elected through nominations. He added that the Standing Committee had tried to get all the agencies to represent the entirety of Guyana on the ERC.

Norton said it was determined by the National Assembly that the representatives consist of the religious bodies, main ethnic groups, and other movements which include the three main religions: Muslim, Hindu, Christian; the three main ethnicities: African, Indian and Amerindian; representatives for women, youth, labour and the private sector.

“It is expected that the members would be able to carry out their duties to the fullest and we are prepared to guide you to facilitate in arriving at the persons you would’ve appointed as representatives,” he added, stating that from the selected representatives a chairman and vice chairman would be elected and the commission would also have a secretariat and Chief Executive Officer to ensure it functions properly.

“This is not new to some of us and I hope you would’ve learned [you are] better prepared to be part of this whole process. And for those [for whom it might be new] we wish that you will learn from this session,” Norton said, stating that the commission should help in making us all better citizens and Guyana a better country. “We do this with the aim of providing you with a better life and I can assure you that our government is making it as effective as possible… I hope that today’s opportunity will provide the best representation and we can look forward,” he added.

Member of Parliament Gail Teixeira explained that Parliament has no authority to change any of the nominations from the non-governmental organizations, once the list is agreed on and there is a 2/3 vote from Parliament. “We don’t have an authority… let’s say you vote x, to move x and place y. We don’t unless the person has done something wrong. There is nothing that allows us to do so,” she asserted, stating that it is important that the selection is a fair and democratic one. She also explained that each commissioner would receive a stipend and urged the gathering to make sure they address all the other NGOs that were not able to make it and make sure their selections are fair.  She gave a time frame of two to four weeks for the selections to be completed, stating that while some of the groups will be small, others will be large and cover a wide area.

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