Select committee approves CRC race relations proposals

Stabroek News
October 21, 1999

The Special Select Committee yesterday unanimously approved the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) on race relations and constitutional commissions. It will, however, await proposals from the work group headed by Dr Rupert Roopnaraine of the Alliance for Guyana (AFG) on the commissions which should be created.

With the completion of consideration of the two issues, the committee has concluded its consideration of the more contentious recommendations.

The committee also returned to the issue of the Elections Commission and unanimously approved the commission's recommendation, which provides for the secretariat to the Election's Commission to be "permanent to ensure efficiency, continuity and the development of institutional memory and capacity."

The CRC recommendations provide for, among other things, the establishment of a broadbased Ethnic Relations Commission comprising representatives of religious bodies, the labour movement, the private business sector women. Among the commission's roles will be to punish any individual or organisation guilty of breaching any of the prohibitions cited in the Constitution against the publication or practice or proselytism of any ideas, programmes or employment practices in which there are elements of racial or ethnic divisiveness.

The commission will be required to establish and publish criteria to be used for deciding whether an individual or organisation is in breach of the prohibitions as well as specify the penalties, including disbarment for the various categories of breaches.

The recommendations also specify that the right of freedom of speech, thought or association would not be a justification or protection from being penalised by the commission. Further, a political party would be held responsible and could face disbarment from contesting an elections if an individual commits the breach while purporting to act or speak on its behalf. To avoid being sanctioned for the behaviour of an individual acting or speaking on its behalf or purporting to do so, a political party would have to publicly disassociate itself from the sentiments expressed.

In approving the suggestion dealing with the composition of the commission, a number of the members felt that the National Assembly should be advised that the organisations from which the membership is to be drawn should include the political parties.

At its next meeting scheduled for tomorrow, the committee will spend some time dealing with proposals it approved in the absence of the PNC delegation, should that party's representatives wish to discuss any of them. The PNC representatives missed meetings of the committee on Wednesday and Friday after they walked out in protest at what they referred to as "stalling" and "conspiracy to frustrate the work of the committee."

At tomorrow's meeting too, The United Force representative, Manzoor Nadir, will read into the records of the committee his rejection of the allegations of "stalling" and "conspiracy to frustrate the work of the committee" raised in a letter from Lance Carberry to Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, who chairs the committee. Carberry is the leader of the PNC's three representatives. This statement will join Carberry's letter, as well as other remarks made by the PNC delegation at a Congress Place press conference on Friday last and by Persaud at a press conference later that day at the library of the National Assembly.

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