President refused to attend National Conversation on Ethnic Relations because ERC failed to consult govt, other concerns

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 December 2020, 20:03 by Denis Chabrol

President Irfaan Ali on Thursday  said he boycotted this week’s first-ever National Conversation because the government was not involved in planning the event and selecting the panelists, concerns about decision-making and silence by that constitutional body about the five-month long political crisis over the elections.

“Every single stakeholder in Guyana agrees that democracy was under threat but the ERC did not issue a single statement. The ERC went hiding,” he told reporters at State House shortly after conferring Senior Counsel on three Attorneys-at-Law. He pilloried that commission for failing to “stand up and to recognise when there is wrong”, in clear reference to the controversial declarations of the Region Four Returning Officer’s declaration of results for that district and five-month long wait of a declaration of final results based on the figures from the national recount of votes cast on March 2, 2020. The international community and foreign observers had expressed concern about the tabulation process for the Region Four results.

In March 2020, the ERC had welcomed the decision by then President David Granger and then Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to recount the votes. In June and July, 2020 that body had also urged Guyanese to behave responsibly and to respect the declared results.

The President confirmed that he received an invitation to the event that was held on December 14 and 15, but refused to attend for several reasons. Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon attended the opening of the event and delivered brief remarks. He said questions were lingering about who were the panelists and how they were selected. “You cannot just pop up names. There has to be some form of consultation, some sort of guidance,” he noted. In apparent reference to Guyana Elections Commissioner Vincent Alexander, opposition Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) candidate, Dr. David Hinds , he said there were panelists at the National Conversation “who were part of a process to derail democracy.”

Dr. Ali referred to concerns in sections of the public about minority reports, disagreement among the commissioners. He added that Minister of Governance, Gail Teixeira was not contacted as a matter of courtesy in the same way he he has been reaching out and consulting.

The Head of State said that was the overall context within which the ERC’s invitation to him has to be taken.

High points of the National Conversation included recommendations  for data-driven socio-economic factors and national impact statements that influence race and ethnicity, constitutional reform, power sharing, establishment of a federal system of government, and delegation of some powers to lower levels.

Panelists also included Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, former executive member of the People’s Progressive Party  Ralph Ramkarran,  Political Scientist Baytoram Ramaharack, President of the Private Sector Commission Nicolas Boyer, Afro-Guyanese activist Eric Phillips, Renata Chuck-a-Sang. Kiran Jabour, Elsie Harry, Derwayne Wills and Vasani Ragoobeer.