— Harmon tells ERC forum
MINISTER of State, Joseph Harmon, has said that the ethnic differences of Guyanese must not be exploited for narrow or political purposes.
The minister issued the charge Saturday evening at the launch of the Ethnic Relations Commission’s (ERC) “This is us” theatrical play held at the National Cultural Centre (NCC).
“While we cannot deny the instances of racial tension in our history, we can boast that we have not reached the levels of the ethnic conflicts that exist in many parts of the world.
However, we live in a polity where there is the tendency to exploit our ethnic diversity for narrow self-interests, with little consideration for the negative effects on our efforts to force national unity– national unity that is so crucial to the sustainable development of our country and to the establishment of strong bonds of nationhood,” he said.
Minister Harmon called on all citizens to remain vigilant and shun any attempt to promote ethnic strife. He said that in May 2015 when the David Granger-led administration took office, it was recognised that Guyanese longed for national unity. As such, the new government established the Department of Social Cohesion, the first of its kind in this hemisphere.
“President David Granger and his administration sought to ensure that the work to promote peace, harmony and national unity would be fully supported at the highest level of the state apparatus. As a consequence, this department was placed within the Ministry of the Presidency. The work of the Department of Social Cohesion has from its inception and continuing to this moment, reflected the government’s resolute and unswerving commitment to ethnic harmony and national unity. Testimony of this commitment was further evident in February 2018, when the re-constituted Ethnic Relations Commission was sworn in by President Granger. These policy positions and concrete actions by the coalition government were clear manifestations, which demonstrated that the government was not paying lip service to the cause of good and genuine ethnic relations,” he said.
It is for these reasons, he said, that government values the existence of the ERC and recognises its importance.
“These functions include a broad range of actions and interventions such as education, monitoring and reviewing of the ethnic landscape and above all, to ensure there is ethnic harmony and social cohesion in the country, a task that is supreme and one for which the government will continue to provide full and unwavering support,” he noted.
The minister of state continued: “We cannot afford to squander the bright future that imminently beckons; we cannot allow negative ethnic considerations and actions to stymie our progress or thwart our efforts to forge ahead in unity. This is our time, this is our opportunity to consolidate and accelerate the renewal of Guyana and it behooves every Guyanese in their homes, communities and regions as well as in the diaspora to remain vigilant and look out for any attempt to promote ethnic strife and exploit our ethnic differences for narrow purposes.”
People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament (MP) Priya Manickchand, who represented Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, echoed Minister Harmon’s sentiments. She called on Guyanese to live in unity.
“Our children should be taught that they can celebrate their differences even while they are living in unity. I don’t wish for my children or grandchildren or our future generations to grow up in a society where they will still have to deal with this issue, even after we are gone,” she said.
Meanwhile, ERC Chairman, Reverend, Dr. John Smith, in his remarks said that the ERC celebrated its 17th anniversary on Friday, but was reconstituted by President Granger 13 months ago.
The ERC, he said, has recognised that much work is to be done and as part of its work programme, it has decided to use theatre to promote its messages. Theatre, he posited, provides the environment for serious messages and conversations to take place without offending anyone.
The event was also attended by Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland; Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder; and Minister within the Ministry of the Finance, Jaipaul Sharma. (Ministry of the Presidency)