President lambastes ERC for ‘hiding’ during elections crisis

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President Irfaan Ali yesterday stated that he boycotted the National Conversation on improving ethnic relations because the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) “went into hiding” during the five-month electoral crisis and failed to consult his government during the planning of the event.

“Every single stakeholder in Guyana agrees that democracy was under threat but the ERC did not issue a single statement. The ERC went hiding. The ERC has a responsibility to the country to stand up and to recognize when there is wrong. I did not see this from the ERC,” he told reporters at State House following the conferral of silk on three attorneys.

Ali’s contention that the constitutional body did not issue “a single statement” is not accurate as the ERC publicly called for “peace and responsible behavior” on two occasions.

In March the ERC released a statement in which it welcomed the decision by then President David Granger and Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, for CARICOM to supervise a full recount of votes cast for the March 02, 2020, General and Regional Elections.

The Commission commended Granger and Jagdeo for being able to find common ground to move forward in the best interest of Guyana and Guyanese and reiterated its call for all Guyanese to act responsibly; to demonstrate tolerance, respect and restraint.

In July the body urged peace and responsible behaviour on the part of the public and political leaders.

“There is no doubt that public utterances, including the building of expectations by some officials and their political subjects, have and continue to contribute to the heightening of tensions and a further widening of unwanted division among our people,” the statement said.

Within its mandate to promote ethnic harmony and good relations among all Guyanese, the body also infrequently cited individuals for behaviour which contravened same.

Last evening Ali also claimed that the ERC is not functioning properly.

“I am aware that there have been many discussion in the public domain on the functioning of ERC itself with minority reports; disagreement among commissioners. These are things that they have to sort out,” he stressed.

The main bone of contention however appears to be a “lack of consultation” with government for the planning of the event.

“We have a Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs (and) not the courtesy of reaching out (to her). So you know I’ve said I’ve been leading this country in a manner in which I’ve been reaching out, in the manner in which I’ve been consulting and I think all stakeholders need to understand this,” Ali said.

Asked by Stabroek News if he was stating that the ERC had not reached out to him or his government to participate in the conversation, Ali took umbrage to the question.

He demanded the reporter explain how they arrived at such a conclusion and attempted to ignore the question.

“I said that? Have I said I was not invited? I am speaking about consultation I have not said anything else I would like to know as a journalist how did you arrive at that?” a heated Ali pronounced

Pressed again he said that he had received an email inviting him to the two events.

“There was an email. An email was sent inviting me yes,” he answered before raising another objection to the event.

According to the President the ERC had in the midst of the conversation “persons who were part of the process to derail democracy”.

“Through what mechanism did they determine who were making the presentation? You will see it in the media now, the same questions the Guyanese people are asking how do you determine who is making the presentation? How did they come up with the names? You can’t just pop up names there has to be some sort of consultation some sort of dialogue. These are things that are critical,” the President declared.

The ERC, in collaboration with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator and the University of Guyana hosted the conversation which addressed the question “How can we improve ethnic relations in Guyana?”

Presenters included UG Vice-Chancellor, Dr Paloma Mohammed-Martin; Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lenox Shuman; Professor David Hinds; activist Ravi Dev, Public Relations Expert, Christopher ‘Kit’ Nascimento, Consultant Renata Chuck-a-Sang and Attorney at Law Nigel Hughes.