The recently reconstituted Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) is on the verge of boosting its manpower to probe claims by the Parliamentary Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – that there is “racially-biased” hiring practices at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The ERC, led by Bishop John Smith, has engaged PPP and the GECOM Chairman, James Patterson on the issue.
During a recent media engagement, the ERC Chairman noted that the body is still in its infancy stage with the investigation arm not yet developed. Several vacancies have already been advertised to fill key positions within the Commission including available slots in the investigation department. The ERC said it is looking to hire former law enforcement officials to aid in the GECOM probe.
Commenting on the task ahead, Bishop Smith noted that determining whether “racial imbalance” does exits at GECOM, is a sensitive issue, and several factors – such as choice – must be taken into consideration. He also explained that one has to factor in the placement of mixed persons; questioning who determines whether someone is “mixed”.
The call for inquiry by the PPP/C came after the non-reappointment of Vishnu Persaud as Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO). GECOM’s Chairman would have cast the deciding vote supporting government’s Commissioners in the appointment of another candidate. That candidate has since been accused by the PPP of being an open supporter of the government.
The issue of hiring at GECOM was further exacerbated after the PPP began enquiring about the ethnic composition of the entity. The PPP later decried that there exists “ethnic imbalance” at the Commission, using the stats obtained; and the appointment of an Afro-Guyanese candidate over Persaud – an Indo-Guyanese.
The opposition has continued to question the rationale behind the non-reappointment of Persaud; noting that he was the only candidate of the two who has experience in election-related matters; and academic achievements to that effect.
The members of the ERC are: Bishop John Smith (Chairperson), Mr. Barrington Braithwaite, Ms. Ruth Howard, Mr. Roshan Khan, Major General (Ret’d) Norman McLean, Pandit Deodat Persaud, Mr. Ashton Simon, Ms. Rajkumarie Singh, Mr. Neaz Subhan and Mr. Norris Witter.
The ERC is intended, inter alia, to promote good relations, harmony, peace, tolerance and understanding between our peoples and provide equal opportunity between persons of different ethnic groups.