Social Cohesion Ministry concludes countrywide dialogue

-safety, economic equity seen as major issues

Following countrywide consultations, the Ministry of Social Cohesion says safety and security, economic equity and harmonious ethnic relations have emerged as the major preoccupations of the public and therefore the issues most likely to hamper social cohesion.

Having concluded the consultations, a release from the Ministry of the Presidency on Wednesday said that validation workshops are scheduled to be held on December 7 and 8, 2016. The workshops will bring together key stakeholders, who participated in the process, to make inputs and review a draft of the National Strategic Plan on Social Cohesion in Guyana 2017-2021.

Overall, the Ministry says it is pleased with the response to the consultations. It said that an average of about 48-50 stakeholders turned out for each of the sessions, with the largest numbers attending the meetings at Beterverwagting, East Coast Demerara (104), Diamond, East Bank Demerara (92) and Kwakwani (78).

“I believe the persons with whom we have consulted have a better understanding of what social cohesion is. I think there [was] always a general misunderstanding about what [it] is…. People [now] have an understanding of the vision and mission of a Ministry like this … and what a cohesive society really means for all of us and how that could be achieved….Moreover, I think that [they] understand their own roles in the process; what they can do to contribute to the social cohesion process in Guyana and so if we’re talking about what we’ve achieved; I think a high level of understanding and awareness. People’s own perceptions have been altered… and I think that is significant,” Programme

Coordinator, Sharon Patterson said

During the consultations, the release said that participants were given the opportunity to provide feedback on five thematic areas that are seen as hampering social cohesion in Guyana: economic equity and opportunities, citizens’ safety and security, social inclusion and tolerance, inclusive and participatory governance and harmonious ethnic and race relations. The release said that of the five, safety and security, economic equity and harmonious ethnic relations emerged as the major preoccupations of the public and therefore, the ones most likely to hamper the process of social cohesion.

With support from the United Nations Development Programme, the Ministry is also hosting an online component to the exercise, which aims to engage young people in the process and provide an opportunity for them to contribute. While the face-to-face consultations have been completed, the digital component is still ongoing.

On Tuesday the ministry hosted the last of its 30 planned consultations in Kwakwani, Region 10.

Lead Consultant for the Social Cohesion National Strategic Plan, Dr. Thomas Gittens said that the consultations have provided tremendous insight into the needs of those communities. At Tuesday’s session, stakeholders from Arima, Potville, Kwakwani Park, Kwakwani Waterfront, Berbice River and the indigenous community of Hururu met at the Kwakwani Workers’ Club to discuss the challenges that are hampering social cohesion in their communities.

Dr. Gittens, according to the release, said that the meeting was informative.

The participants were asked for feedback on the five thematic areas. Concerns about economic equity and openness and safety and security were among the most prevalent. With regard to economic equity, Ian Forde, a retired teacher and resident of Kwakwani Waterfront, Berbice River, said “Many people … think it is a racial problem of race against race, but what I’ve observed is largely, or possibly, the issue of the poor against the rich; there is a battle there [between] the rich and the powerful and the poor and the powerless….Equal opportunities for poor people to get access to loans… to banking services… titles to their lands” would bring about a positive change for individuals, their communities and the nation as a whole.”

On safety and security, some residents posited that unemployment may be contributing to petty crime and urged the police to act now.   Patrick Gonsalves, a resident of Kwakwani Waterfront, Berbice River, said, “[People] … coming to and fro need to be checked properly and properly identified in this community. So I would recommend that they [report] at the station,” he said.