– Concerns raised again on GECOM racial bias complaintNewly-elected Commissioners of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) on Wednesday met with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to discuss matters related to complaints of racial bias at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), among other issues that fall within their ambit.Jagdeo was accompanied by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Parliamentarian Bishop Juan Edghill, who engaged the commissioners in frank and open discussions on race relations and matters impacting ethnic insecurities in Guyana.Discussions included adhering to the objectives of fairness and transparency, but specific reference was also made to the hiring of staffers at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), and the PPP’s concerns relative to the need for fair and transparent hiring practices based on merit.GECOM Commissioners Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn had written a letter of complaint to the ERC, contending there is a manifest ethnic imbalance at GECOM, and that hiring practices are being manipulated in favour of one group. The letter had asked for the ERC to investigate.Asked for an update on this matter, Bishop Dr John Smith said investigations have not yet commenced, owing to financial and staffing challenges. According to Smith, the commission has “to get staff. We advertised for staff, and are working to get the machine in place so we can do the work.”But during the meeting, Jagdeo also reminded the Commissioners that the Constitution empowers them to conduct investigations on their own accord. The Commission was encouraged to examine the studies done by previous ERC in theOpposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo (centre) flanked by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira (left), Former ERC Chairman and Opposition MP, Juan Edghill, and ERC commissioners during the meeting on Wednesdaypublic service, contracts and procurement, and the allocation of house lots.According to a statement from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Jagdeo stressed that the State has a responsibility to give fair and equal treatment to its citizens, and to ensure equal access to goods and services. The Opposition Leader also encouraged the ERC to engage in a fact-based approach in adhering to their mandate, and to address issues before them in an expeditious manner.The Opposition also made it clear that they do not support the introduction of a quota system. Jagdeo reaffirmed that the PPP stands by the principle of meritocracy as key to employment in the State (public) and private sectors, as well as to opportunities for scholarships.He also repeated the PPP’s call for equal treatment for the more than 7,000 sugar workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the closures of the Wales, Rose Hall, Skeldon and Enmore sugar estates. Jagdeo outlined policies that were implemented to support communities in Region 10, specifically Linden and communities along the Berbice River, because of problems relating to the bauxite sector.Those policies and subsidies remain intact today in those areas. He therefore urged the Commission to look at what needs to be done to ensure that the sugar workers benefit from equal treatment.Concerns were also raised about the almost 2,000 Amerindian Community Service Officers (CSOs) whose services were terminated post May 2015. The Opposition Leader informed the Commissioners that with the loss of employment of these CSOs, over $700 million has been withdrawn from their communities, resulting in devastating repercussions for the people living in those areas.Much of the discussion saw time given to the concerns about the state and welfare of Afro-Guyanese, and the ERC was requested to do a fact-based study on the periods 1964-1992 (under the PNC administration), 1992-2015 (under the PPP/C administration) and 2015 to present (under the APNU+AFC Coalition Government); and facilitate a public discussion on the findings.The Leader of the Opposition stated that if this study was done, it would find that Afro-Guyanese did better under successive PPP/C Governments.ERC Chairman Dr Smith has said that since resuscitation of this commission, the ERC has been flooded with requests. Some of the main issues that engaged the Commission’s attention were the allegations of discrimination at Mae’s School, and claims of ethnic imbalance at the GECOM.The Chairman also informed that the Commission is currently refining its work plan, looking at its legal framework, and recruiting to bring its staff complement to working strength.Retired Major General Norman McLean, who is a member of the Commission, has said that despite the challenges, the Commissioners are committed to working as a team to ensure that social cohesion is truly realised. This, he said, is the main objective of the work programme that is being drafted.Similar sentiments were also expressed by the other Commissioners.