Committee recommends nixing holidays shifted to Monday
Stabroek News
April 29, 2004

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The inclusion of May 5 (Arrival Day) and May 26 (Independence Day) in the roster of public holidays may not in fact increase the number of holidays during the year because the committee recommends that a holiday no longer be celebrated on a Monday whenever it falls on a Sunday.

The only exception to that would be Easter Monday and the two new holidays now being proposed.

The report of the parliamentary committee appointed to review the public holidays with a view to including the two dates, says there may even be fewer holidays falling on working days as a consequence. While recommending the two dates they have only asked Parliament to consider two other dates, September 10 (Amerindian Day) and October 12 (African Holocaust Day) as public holidays and the removal of Boxing Day as a national holiday. The other issue is whether, after consultation with the Muslin community, to replace Youman Nabi with Eid-ul-Fitr.

The report of the committee is to come up for consideration at today's sitting of the National Assembly.

The public holidays at present are every Sunday, the first weekday of January, Republic Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labour Day, Caricom Day, December 26, Emancipation Day, Phagwah, Deepavali, Eid-ul-Azha and Youman Nabi.

Since the PPP administration took office, the Home Affairs Minister, using powers given him under the Act, has been declaring May 26 a public holiday.

The committee's reason for recommending the inclusion of May 5 as a public holiday is that Indians are the largest racial grouping in the country and have made a significant contribution towards its development and while there may be differing opinions about the nature of Indian Arrival, it is accepted as a seminal event that has had permanent consequences for the country.

The report said that while the recommendation for May 5 to be declared Arrival Day is in keeping with the committee's mandate, the "committee wishes to note that all the submissions favouring 5th May as a Public Holiday recommended that it be designated "Indian Arrival Day" as is the case in Trinidad and Tobago".

With regard to May 26, its rationale is that all Caricom countries observe the day they gained their independence, that the Guyanese people fought for it and it signifies the day when the Golden Arrowhead replaced the Union Jack and British Guiana became Guyana.

The committee's mandate restricted it to the consideration of the inclusion of only May 5 and May 26, in the roster of public holidays. However, it felt that the submissions for other holidays to be observed merited consideration by the parliament because they are important for the healing and unification of all the peoples of Guyana and that it should be demonstrated that equity is dispensed equally within the principle of unity in diversity.

It also noted what it described in the report as the zero sum premise of most of the submissions that the acknowledgement of the claims of one group would somehow detract from the claims of others.

Before deciding on its recommendations the committee heard submissions from a number of organisations including the Guyanese Indian Foundation Trust (GIFT), the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA), the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA), the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha (GHDS) the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC), the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), the National Front Alliance (NFA), the National Amerindian Environment Education Development Foundation (NADF) as well as individual submissions from Clarence Ellis, who is based in the United States, Gordon Bristol, June Mendes, Eileen Cox, Thakur Persaud and Philip Prashad.

Of the nine organisations and six individuals, only five organisations GIFT, GIHA, IAC, GHDS, GIT, and Prashad supported May 5 being declared a national holiday with GIHA and GHDS insisting that it be designated Indian Arrival Day.

In relation to May 26, only three organisations - GIFT, GIT, GHDS - and Prashad, Persaud and Bristol supported the day being observed as a national holiday.

The committee has offered no rationale for its request that September 10 be included in the list of public holidays as proposed by NADF and GOIP or for the inclusion of October 10 which ACDA proposed and the IAC supported. ACDA also indicated its support for a date other than May 5 for the observance of Indian Arrival as it was not an observance it would support since the coming of Indians to work on the sugar plantations was to the detriment of the efforts of the freed slaves.

The NADF and GOIP recommended the observance of September 10 as it was the day in 1957 that Stephen Campbell first entered parliament as a legislator.

The dropping of Boxing Day was proposed by GIHA and GOIP with the latter wanting either of the two days observed as New Arrival Day. In its submission about Boxing Day, GIHA argued that it was a hangover from colonial times and therefore of no relevance today.

Thakur Persaud submitted that both Easter Monday and Boxing Day be dropped from the roster of public holidays. Persaud also proposed the observance of Guyanese Day. The NFA, Mendes and Cox supported neither May 5 nor May 26 being included in the roster of public holidays. Cox's reason was that there was no need for holidays that would defeat the objective of the national motto; Mendes contended that there were already too many holidays; and the NFA felt that there is a need to establish clear and rational criteria for national holidays.

The committee was chaired by Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj and was appointed as a result of motion the National Assembly approved on April 14 which mandated it to review the holidays appointed by the Public Holidays Act with a view to including Independence Day (May 26) and Arrival Day (May 5). The other members were PPP parliamentarians Labour Minister Dr Dale Bisnauth, Indranie Chandarpal, Shirley Edwards, and Zulfikar Mustapha; PNCR parliamentarians Deryck Bernard, Amna Ally and Dr George Norton and ROAR party's Ravi Devi.

Its first meeting was on December 2, and fourteen other meetings were held between January and April 15, with its report being submitted by the April 16 deadline that it was given. The report was originally to have been submitted by March 15 but was put back to April 16 as a result of what was described as unforeseen contingencies.