On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of our achievement of Independence from Britain, it is somewhat serendipitous that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was established “to inquire into, report on and make recommendations on the role, functions, recruitment process, remuneration, conditions and other matters pertaining to the personnel employed in the Guyana Public Service.”
The members of the Commission were Professor Harold Lutchman, who had written a history of the Civil Service, Sandra Jones a management consultant, and Samuel Goolsarran a member of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry.
The CoI began hearings last September and submitted its report to the Ministry of the Presidency last week. The serendipity arises because of the eve of independence there was also an investigation into the Public Service.
During the tumultuous years of civil riots and unrest preceding independence, the PPP had consistently called for the British to conduct an enquiry into the ethnic imbalances in the police and Volunteer Forces, but these were brushed aside by the PNC after they acceded to power.
However, the British insisted and Burnham finally agreed to an investigation by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) to investigate the PPP’s claim. The PNC-UF government however, unilaterally expanded the CoI’s terms of reference to include the civil service, government agencies, the allocation of lands on land development schemes, and other areas of government responsibility.
With specific reference to the Civil Service, the ICJ commission which took submissions in 1965, was instructed “to consider existing procedures relating to the selection, appointment, promotion, dismissal and conditions of service of personnel are such as to encourage or lead to racial discrimination in the areas concerned; to make such recommendations as are considered necessary to correct any such procedures with a view to the elimination of imbalance based on racial discrimination having regard to the need to maintain the efficiency of the services concerned and the public interest.”
Interestingly enough, the PPP was incensed by the PNC’s including the composition of the Civil Service , which even though also racially imbalanced, was not felt to be as strategically important as the police and armed forces in the maintenance of political power. By this time the British had formed the nucleus of a future army for the country – the Special Services Unit (SSU) equally balanced between African and Indian Guyanese. The British Governor had no problem with recruiting the requisite number of Indians. The PPP, however, boycotted the sittings of the ICJ’s hearings.
The ICJ highlighted Indian sentiment on their desire to enter the Civil Service which was seen as the epitome of “success” in the society at large, since it positioned citizens closest to the occupants of power positions. Their Report stated: “It may be said that the existence of a “racial problem” in British Guiana came to be noticed as a political factor about the year 1950. By then some Africans had begun to fear that if the Indian economic and social progress continued it would menace the advancement they had made. The Indians, on the other hand, felt that their newly-found desire to enter public services, such as the Civil Service and the police, was being thwarted by the fact that the Africans were already predominant in those services and that the conditions of entry were restrictive or discriminatory. These fears have to be viewed against the background of an economy which was not sufficiently buoyant or expansionist to allay fears of economic insecurity.”
In the waning days of the Jagdeo administration there were charges made via a private court action that the PPP had “discriminated” against African Guyanese in the Public Service, and these charges figured prominently during the last elections campaign. It is hoped the present CoI has touched on this matter of “racial/ethnic imbalances” in the Public Services, much as the Disciplined Forces Commission in 2004 echoed the ICJ in their recommendations on “balancing” the Armed Forces.