Today I attended the official launch of United Nations World Inter-Faith Harmony Week 2019 at the National Cultural Centre. This annual activity which began since the passage of the UN resolution has been hosted by the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) of Guyana in collaboration with the Government of Guyana. This has been so for many years under the PPP/C and now under this coalition Government. This event has always been a forum where diversity is recognised, celebrated and respected.
There has been a significant departure over the last three years. Historically, all the faiths of Guyana are invited to participate, both in offering prayers and to bring messages from their various holy books and texts. On the program of this event, this year, the Christian community was excluded from bringing a message. I sat next to two Bishops from the Christian faith; neither of them knew the reason why. At the end of the program, I enquired from several members of the executive committee of the IRO and none could give a plausible explanation, except that they confirmed that it was a decision by the Ministry of the Presidency.
Further, every year, the UN resident coordinator would bring a message from the UN Secretary General. The President of Guyana and Leader of the parliamentary Opposition would also be asked to bring messages. Since this coalition Government has been in office the program in previous years was expanded to include messages from the PNC, APNU and AFC. I spoke to several members of the IRO about this unhealthy development a few years ago. This year’s program they have excluded a message from the parliamentary Opposition while having a speaker from the Government. When I enquired why the parliamentary Opposition was not on the program, it was reported that this was a decision of the Ministry of the Presidency.
These actions have caused me to conclude the following: this action of exclusion determined by the Ministry of the Presidency Department of Social Cohesion makes the case that the Government’s rhetoric about social cohesion and national unity is a farce and purely for propaganda purposes. Secondly, the Ministry of the Presidency Department of the Social Cohesion has hijacked the functions of the IRO.
Editor, not because this activity is funded by the Government means they have any right to dictate the exclusion of one of Guyana’s major religions, namely the Christian faith and the further exclusion of the parliamentary Opposition which currently holds 32 seats in the National Assembly. This action further crystallises the lack of sincerity on the part of the political directorate, they are prepared to speak about social cohesion while at the same time locking out the voices and views of those who don’t fall into their political camp.
Silence on my part would be tantamount to condoning the hijacking of this reputable religious organisation of which I am a co-founder and it would also mean that I give consent to the abuse of this intended harmony event to promote partisan behaviour.
We need to do better than this!
Bishop Juan A Edghill