The ‘racial slur’ controversy

Discussions on race in Guyana have always been a delicate topic considering the historical past of the perceived status of ethnic dominance, insecurity and mistrust among the two dominant factions – Indo and Afro – in our society. As such, there is an unspoken rule of diplomacy when public office holders speak, so as not to offend others in a pluralistic society.
Making the headlines in the local dailies and online news on Thursday was President David Granger’s Press and Publicity Officer, who hurled some racial remarks about her colleagues during a private Facebook group chat. A snapshot of the conversation shows the officer saying, “She don’t know these coolie…They still friendsing she while kissing my a**,” referring to colleagues at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The seeds of racial and ethnic disharmony were sown in the British colonial era, but have unfortunately continued in our society even today. The President’s Press Officer’s comments highlight that there is some racial disunity at the Ministry of the Presidency and as a matter of fact, some feeling of ethnic superiority there. Superior behaviour at workplaces can pit employees against one another and in this instance, if one were to follow the conversation trail between the Press Officer and her friends, this is exactly what occurred.
Already President David Granger has distanced himself from his officer’s comments and was quoted as saying, “It is not the policy of the Ministry of the Presidency and it is certainly not my policy.” However, what is required is not mere distancing the Government from this scandal but rather action. Zero tolerance for such behaviour is the stronger message the President should be sending. Scandals caused by public officials are in many instances a result of the deteriorating behaviours – in this case by the President’s Press Officer – who has reportedly indulged in all sorts of practices and for this instance, in racial remarks. As such, it is now up to Government to genuinely show Guyanese that it will demand that Public Sector officers strengthen ethics, integrity, accountability and professionalism or be fired. The Government has a duty to tackle any form of racial issues/discrimination within the workforce and more specifically at the Ministry of the Presidency. To ignore its Press Officer’s comment or to downplay it is a dangerous trend to set in Guyana as it will undermine our collective strength as a country and will create deeper divisions. It would be rather disappointing if this racial scandal involving a public official is not thoroughly investigated.  Already in Guyana, there is much debate over the lack of interest to investigate instances of corruption, lack of transparency and unprofessional behaviour by the Government.
Employees, whether in Government or Private Sector, expect to be treated fairly and considerately in their respective workplaces. In this instance when it comes to an issue of race, the Government has a moral and legal duty to investigate. In probing this incident, those who are investigating should peruse the Prevention of Racial Discrimination Act, Chapter 99:09. We await Government’s official position on this matter after the “investigation” has been completed.