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US still executing abandoned democracy project- Luncheon

Guyana wants the United States (US) to clarify why it is apparently still engaged in activities under an American-funded project that government has abandoned on grounds that it was not properly consulted.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US$1.5 million Leadership and Democracy Project was expected to fund political parties, strengthen the National Assembly, support holding Local Government Elections and support women and youth political leadership.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon on Wednesday said he has written US Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt seeking an explanation about why either the American embassy, USAID or the International Republican Institute (IRI) was still engaged in project-related activities on the ground.

“There have been repeated reports that activities in the disapproved project are being implemented currently by either the US Embassy or the USAID or the International Republican Institute,” he said.

Pressed to provide details, Dr. Luncheon said that a number of the activities were being conducted in Regions Three and Four. He said Cabinet members have reported that activities involved “political parties and their mobilization”, women and children. Luncheon said he had not received any reports that any activities involved the governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) of which he is an executive member.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to a question seeking to confirm whether aspects of the LEAD project were still being undertaken and why.

Luncheon, who is also Cabinet Secretary, did not expect Guyana’s repudiation of the LEAD project to sour relations between Washington and Georgetown.

He said the American Ambassador had previously made it “pellucidly clear” in lengthy bilateral talks up to October 2012 that political parties would not have been funded intentionally or otherwise. “If the man tell me so, what you want? Watch the Ambassador in he face and tell he he lie?,” said Luncheon.

But copies of the LEAD project design released to the media by the Office of the President state that political parties can receive “commodity support valued at US$50,000 or less may be provided to each political party that qualifies for assistance.”

While the USAID programmes do not seek to determine election outcomes, the document states that the aid agency must make a good faith effort to assist all democratic parties with equitable levels of assistance. The US embassy would determine which political parties should be assisted

The aid agency’s guidelines prescribe that all political party assistance should be suspended a reasonable time prior to voting. “Thirty days is a usual period, but it will vary depending upon the lead-time before an election.”  

“Moreover, political party assistance provides an important means to engage a nation’s future leadership, a factor often key to advancing US interests over time. For these reasons, the US government encourages assistance to democratic political parties,” states the project design under the heading “The United States Interest”.

Goals include developing and consolidating representative democracies, developing transparent democratic political environments, establishing viable democratic parties and ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections.

As it relates ton Guyana specifically, LEAD’s Election and Political Process Fund provides for working with all of the major democratic parties to enhance political party  capacity in several areas. These include legislative agenda setting, political platform development, fund-raising, intra and inter-party constituency-building, effective outreach and campaigning, institutionalization of party structures via internal rules and procedures, development and strengthening of communication systems (particularly between the coast and the interior), training and retention of volunteers and enhancing the capacity of parties for civic education. The document further states that the programme will Also build capacity in policy development including the use of policy and budget analysis in the drafting of legislation. “Additional assistance may be provided, based on resource availability, once local government legislation has been passed and signed by the President in the preparation for local government elections in 2013,” the document added.

The project also envisages that USAID and other donors would, among other things, support a broad range of consultations on key reform issues and agendas including needed reforms to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the Guyana Constitution, local election policies, decentralization and political party financing. In the area of Women and Youth Political Leadership,  support would be provided for the training of young and female members of political parties to reinforce the evolution of political party cultures from within and encourage fact-based debate, cooperation/negotiation skills, accountability to citizens and national unity.