Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) Chairman, Juan Edghill says some statements made by Fazia’s Collections owner, Terry Anderson are untrue and he warned of sanctions if Anderson does not attend a meeting to address reports that his store refuses entry to Chinese persons.
“Lies, lies and more lies. It is clear that Fazia’s Collections got caught…with their pants down”, Edghill said addressing reporters at the press conference at the ERC’s boardroom yesterday. “The question is not if it happened and no spin doctoring can change it…we have a business in this country who is preventing Chinese from entering and as chairman of the ERC I have a constitutional mandate to deal with it and I will not be backed off by anybody who is trying to threaten and spin doctor”, he declared.
The ERC had received a complaint from Melanie McTurk that Fazia’s Collection of Longden and America streets was disallowing Chinese nationals from entering the store like any other citizen to conduct their business.
Edghill said what was intended to be a matter that could have been dealt with through moral suasion and applying alternative dispute resolution techniques has become a public matter and therefore he will be speaking “unrestrained”. He said he will not be intimidated by “any hired pen” and the ERC “will not be cowered into a corner by legal manoeuvrings of any learned attorney in this country”. According to Edghill, he is aware of his constitutional mandate and will fulfill it without fear, favour or ill will and no one’s wealth is enough to buy his integrity as he upholds higher principles because he serves a God.
He said a statement issued by Anderson on Tuesday contains a number of inaccuracies which he dubbed as “a deliberate attempt to change the facts as they occurred”. He said that the ERC received complaints that Fazia’s Collections was turning away Chinese nationals from the store and in a statement to the ERC, Anderson acknowledged that he had a problem.
He read a portion of Anderson’s statement saying that since August 2009, Anderson “admitted” there was a problem “between him and Chinese”.
“His way of dealing with it is that no Chinese could enter his store”, Edghill charged, adding that the ERC was made aware of this in April. He said the Commission was very concerned and therefore mounted a “sting operation”, where ERC investigators agreed with some of the Chinese to visit the store and let them see what transpired. Anderson, in his statement, did not say that in May he turned away Chinese from his store and had turned them away before in April, Edghill said. “No amount of semantics and going around and coming around could take us away from the real fundamental point (that) Fazia’s Collections refuses to allow Chinese into their store”, he asserted.
“Lies, lies, lies, lies”, said Edghill about Anderson’s statement that the ERC Chairman along with four employees visited the store and commenced taking photos. Edghill said that on the day in question, his investigators were around the store observing what was happening. “The Chinese were never allowed inside. They were turned away at the bag bay. It was when one of Mr. Anderson’s staff was about to physically remove a Chinese from the premises that one of my investigators took out a camera to take the photograph and there was an objection and a confrontation”, Edghill said. He said at that stage he was informed and arrived some time after to talk to the owner to see if the matter could be sorted out on the spot since all the parties were there. At no time did he enter the store with investigators and commence taking photos, Edghill emphasized. According to the ERC head, when asked initially, Anderson said his name was “Mark Anthony” and the owner was not around. It was only when he attempted to contact Guyana Revenue Authority chief, Khurshid Sattaur that “Mark Anthony” indicated he was Anderson, Edghill said.
He said that at that stage, he asked Anderson and the bag bay attendant- who had told the Chinese that they could not go into the store, to go to the ERC office so statements could be taken and the matter dealt with.
Edghill declared that the matter should not have been public, accusing columnist Freddie Kissoon of bringing it into the public domain. Edghill also denied asking Anderson about his religion and invited reporters to listen to a tape of the interview. He also clarified that the incident took place on May 7 and not May 8 as the Commission has said in letters. He said that it was a typographical, administrative error on the part of the ERC which they regret and there was no intent to “doctor”. Edghill also clarified later that it was erroneous when the ERC said that the complaint was made on May 12. The complaint was made in April, he said.
Addressing an issue raised that the ERC was acting as investigator, witness and at the same time purporting to be a mediator, Edghill said that the Commission has choices and part of its constitutional function is to provide for alternative dispute resolution. He said when the matter was discussed internally and members of the private sector contacted, it was thought that it was a landmark issue since it was the first time something like this was brought to the ERC’s attention and while the Chinese were traumatized, they decided that they would have Anderson and the Chinese meet in a roundtable manner to talk through the issues. Edghill charged that it seems that Anderson has chosen the path of seeking to discredit a constitutional body through various manoeuvres “so that he could get away with his mischief of discriminating against Chinese and I find that to be disgusting”. He said that if this was happening to Afro or Indo-Guyanese, the country would have been “hot”. “Chinese need to be protected and the Constitution protects Chinese as well”, said Edghill.
He expressed doubt that there were signs at the store warning against the taking of photos or videotaping, saying that the signs in the store were computer generated and laminated while the ones that said ‘no photographing’ and ‘no videotaping’ were “hurriedly handwritten and placed”. As long as he remains head of the ERC, “the constitution will be upheld…any form of discrimination whether it’s at Fazia’s Collection, whether it’s at Regent Street or at Water Street, it must stop and the ERC will not be cowered into a corner and back off because of some well orchestrated media hired pen campaign to besmirch the image of the Chairman in particular and the Commission as a body”, Edghill said.
He was also skeptical of Anderson’s explanation that the store was a victim of commercial espionage. He said that Anderson explained that he goes to fashion shows overseas and makes his orders but before his orders could reach Guyana, the Chinese have the same thing cheaper so he has to sell his products cheaper and suffer a loss. “If the goods ain’t reach Guyana how could the Chinese photograph it? And if the Chinese wants to photograph it, the Chinese could send me, he could send anyone of you, he could hire anybody who is non-Chinese to go into the store and photograph it. And why do you have to photograph it when you could buy it as a sample and actually send the sample to a supplier so they could see the quality to get a more inferior one at a cheaper price. So I don’t understand the logic”, said Edghill. He said Anderson declined an invitation to identify any of the Chinese girls who photographed, attempted to photograph or videotaped any of his products.
As to the way forward, Edghill said: “Mr. Anderson will be told and notified of the final date in which he will have to show up at the Commission to deal with this matter. He can choose to show up or choose not to show up. If he don’t show up we will rely on the statements that he gave already to determine the matter”.
“I will not be commenting on close down or whatever sanction but I’m saying when a law is broken there are the various relevant authorities who can deal with that particular situation and the ERC will be pursuing all avenues if we don’t have the matter settled”, he added. He denied telling Anderson that the store could be closed down.
“This is not a matter…of proving guilt or not guilty. The matter has passed that stage. It’s not a trial we’re talking about”, Edghill said, contending that “there is no denial as it relates to what happened”. He said it is a matter of how the issue is remedied.
On the question of bias, Edghill said that a mediator does not make a decision but facilitates an agreement between two parties that are in disagreement.
Edghill also read the last sentences of Anderson’s statement which says that “I do not have a problem if Chinese come to my store but no photographs must be taken. I’m very sorry for all that has happened”.