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Confusion over new Diversity Ministry
Confusion. This was the feeling in several quarters about the new Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration. From political scientists to civil society to religious groups, all said the function of the ministry, thus far, was vague. Even new National Diversity and Social Integration Minister, Clifton de Coteau, had few words to say on his new ministry, In a telephone interview on Wednesday, De Coteau said he preferred to wait until the matter was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting before he made any statement on it. However, after yesterday’s meeting, De Coteau said he would not make any pronouncements on the ministry until next week. Pressed about what the ministry was about, he said: “It’s exactly what it says. “It’s about national diversity and social integration, about inclusion, about shaping a spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
“It’s about creating unity in everything. We are diverse and we have to recognise and respect that.”
Asked if that was not happening and if there was a need to create a whole ministry to address the problem, De Coteau said: “Yes. After 50 years we have not really moulded a nation.” Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, after the recent reshuffle of her Cabinet and the creation of four new ministries, sought to explain the rationale behind the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration. The ministry would deal with such issues as patriotism, national heroes and protocols, she said. “The concept is that as we celebrate our diversity, there must also be unity to deal with concerns that arise in a diverse society,” she added. The PM said that unity was distinct from what the Ministry of Multiculturalism was trying to achieve, which picks up expression and art form and culture. Khafra Kambon, head of the Emancipation Support Committee, said he was still waiting to find out the functions of the new ministry.
He said: “I do not know the rationale behind it and what it stands for. “I am waiting to see what the functions would be and then I can make a more informed comment.” Told what De Coteau had said, Kambon replied: “I have no quarrel with that. “We have to find a philosophical approach that embraces our differences while looking for our commonalities. “There is a level of racial antagonism that is beyond a healthy level. There is an error in thinking that we bring harmony by ignoring our uniqueness. “But I don’t know if we need to create a separate ministry for this.” He added: “The Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism suggests a similar philosophy. Not everything requires a ministry. We will have to see some justification for that. “When they define the goals and operational aspects of the ministry then we will know if it is justified.”
Secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj said he had not studied the matter. If the ministry was based on the Mauritius model, however, it is a good experiment, he said. He added: “The ethnic divisions in Mauritius are almost the same as ours and they have the same racial problems. We have racial problems and pretend it is not there.” He recalled that even former PNM prime minister, Patrick Manning, recognised that when he established a team to study racism and employment. Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said he still had to understand what the ministry was about and what its focus was. He said: “Until I see it gazetted, I can’t really comment,” he said. He noted, though: “As far as I’m concerned, it should fall under the Ministry of Multiculturalism.” His colleague, Dr Indira Rampersad, said information on the ministry was vague. She surmised that what the Government was trying to achieve was probably not just multi-ethnic unity but the harmonising of all factions in society. This included trade unions and other aspects of civil society, she added.
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