Jun 10, 2018  Eye on Guyana with Lincoln LewisFeatures / Columnists

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) prior to 1992 accused the People’s National Congress (PNC) Government of practicing racism in its employment policies, notably in the Public Service, Police and Defence Forces. This allegation dates back to 1964, and in 1965 the Forbes Burnham Government invited the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) to conduct an inquiry, which the PPP refused to participate in and lead evidence to support its charges.
Notwithstanding the party’s absence, the ICJ made recommendations to introduce a number of measures to accommodate East Indians, among which were changes to the British recruitment requirements for employment in the military based on height and respect for cultural uniqueness (religion/diet). In as much as there were amendments, the party continued its charge of discrimination against Indians and in favour of Africans.
The PPP/C was elected to office in October 1992. Among its first acts was that of implementing, in every state agency, a programme that targeted for removal of the African majority or Africans in managerial positions. I’ve written and spoken extensively on this matter, providing the evidence and called the discriminatory programme against Africans, economic genocide. Society would recall Roger Luncheon on the witness stand making statements to the effect that the PPP/C Government did not hire any African as Head of Mission because none was found to be so qualified!
For the years the PPP/C held office, one would have thought the party would have taken the opportunity to develop a national policy and legislation that would guide Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) within the state sector, setting the standard for others to follow. Quite recently the charge of discrimination in employment in favour of Africans has resurfaced, and the agency presently targeted is the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). He who asserts must be called upon to prove and the PPP/C must provide the evidence to support its charge of employment practices at GECOM that run contrary to the universal principle of EEO.
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Where evidence is not provided it will be seen as a ploy to: 1) immobilise the electoral machinery by demoralising the GECOM workforce; 2) depress the voters of other race groups who would be turned off by allegations of racism and; 3) a mobilising tool to get Indians to the polls on fear that the group is being singled out and targeted for discrimination in employment.
At the same time the APNU+AFC Government must take some responsibility for facilitating and nurturing the climate of racial fears and insecurities, real or perceived. In opposition, the parties spoke out against this problem and campaigned to address it. Where the administration continues to fail to constructively confront race by treating with the people as centre to development, the environment of chaos, mistrust and fodder for provocateurs will prevail.
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Race has been consistently used to garner and maintain support by political parties in local government, regional and general elections. In fact, race is here and to stay. It would be folly to ignore it and not put systems in place to ensure racial pride and parity. Race must not be used as a wedge, but be properly examined and managed for the betterment of this society. Our unique historical physical traits/identity must be seen and used as an important characteristic in national development planning, looking at areas such as health, education, home ownership, employment, access to financing, opportunities, etc.
This country at independence identified itself as having six peoples. This thing about Africans and Indians only is an affront to the other races, for they too belong, must be treated equally, and be part of the national conversation and thrust for inclusion.
Race continues to conveniently be treated with as the elephant in the room, as persons are failing to address it in a constructive manner, but find conversations on it only useful in order to keep the nation divided, the masses dispossessed, underserved and under-developed.
And this brings attention to the disbandment of the Ministry of Labour and importance of having it re-established. Labour places people – i.e. workers, be they past, present or potential, unionised or not – at the centre of development. Structures are established based on their wellbeing, not the other way around.
A Labour Ministry is headed by a politician/technocrat whose prime responsibility would be that of conceptualising and developing the administration’s agenda for the people by making sure this respects their diverse sphere, scope, competencies and other demographics.
Labour has cross-cutting responsibilities, running through every ministry and department. This is not to be trifled with. A people-centred approach to development will see new labour laws, policies and programmes based on credible information, trends and other societal dynamics. Labour is holistic/all-encompassing, while Social Protection is an element within Labour that places specific emphasis on the wellbeing of vulnerable groups in society.
In examining the racial angst, for instance, it would be the responsibility of a Ministry of Labour to constructively address it. But first let me make it very clear – racial pride, respect, unity and parity cannot be achieved having an Indian Prime Minister and African President or vice versa. It’s a superficial approach that falls far short of the Preamble in and Title 1 of the Guyana Constitution, which guarantee equality to all and protection from being discriminated against.
A Minister of Labour would see wisdom to articulate and advance legislation to realise equal opportunity in the workforce, workplace and wider society. Amidst all the continuous political talks about racism and addressing employment practices, this country is yet to see legislation on EEO.
Such legislation would facilitate the necessity for data-gathering on race, those of employable age and employed, address recourse to grievances, analyse data to determine the requisite mechanisms to bring about parity and right past wrongs. We cannot attain the ideal of “One People One Nation One Destiny” when some are shut out of the system due to discrimination, inaction and non-enforcement.
This nation is advised of a Social Cohesion policy. Social cohesion addresses three planks – 1) Social Mobility; 2) Social Capital and 3) Social Inclusion. A labour-centred approach gives premium simultaneously to all three, to wit, a Labour Ministry would value the necessity for a Job Creation Plan in collaboration with stakeholders, examining employment and retirement trends, equitable and accountable taxation, new jobs, social safety networks and opportunities for all, in pursuit of growth and equitable development.
We have work to do and those responsible for establishing the framework for creating a just society must be called upon to discharge their duty.