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US denies virtually imposing democracy and governance project

US Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt

The United States (US) embassy on Thursday denied that it did not consult adequately with the Guyana government on a “technical assistance” project that was expected to benefit political parties to improve governance and democracy here.

The embassy said it held an “extensive series of consultations and correspondence” with the Guyana government and other stakeholders on developing the Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project.

“In providing this proposal, USAID developed a series of programmatic activities reflecting substantial input from the government and other stakeholders.  We also made clear that we remain open to additional feedback that the government and other stakeholders might have to further refine the proposal,” the embassy told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

The embassy did not respond specifically to a question about whether it, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the International Republican Institute (IRI) has been engaged in activities related to the project that government said it did not approve late last year because of little or no consultation with the Donald Ramotar administration. Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon on Wednesday said he has written to US Ambassador Brent Hardt seeking clarification on whether project-related work was continuing.

The embassy said that USAID had provided a detailed project document proposal for its LEAD activity in August 2013 at the request of the Guyana government.

Despite the Guyana government cancelling the US$1.250 million project, the US apparently has not given up on getting LEAD off the ground. “USAID will continue to refine this project document further as part of its ongoing consultations with all stakeholders – both government and non-governmental.”

In contrast to a copy of the “project design” that was released by the Guyana government earlier this  week, the US Embassy provided to Demerara Waves Online News a document that emphasised close consultations  and an “inclusive” approach with the Ramotar administration and other interest groups. “IRI, as USAID’s implementing partner, will consult closely with key stakeholders in the Government of Guyana and with political party leaders to develop and carry out activities under this program,” states the document. IRI was also expected to work with diplomatic and international donors in Guyana including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

While the document released by the Guyana government suggested that Guyanese political parties were expected to receive funding for a number of activities, the American embassy’s version pointed out that no money or materials would have been provided to political parties for them to have engaged in consensus building in the National Assembly and more effectively interact with citizens to address key issues. “The LEAD programme will offer (non-material/non-financial) technical assistance to all democratic political parties and coalitions in Guyana in a non-partisan, inclusive manner,” states the document.

The project, which was expected to last from April 2013-to April 2015,  was expected to include cross-party negotiation workshops outside the formal parliamentary setting to foster interactions, and  quarterly ‘speaker’ evenings to allow for political stakeholders to socialize and encourage friendly  low-profile discussion away from political matters. Also envisaged were formal monthly or bi-monthly workshops with political stakeholders to debate, deliberate and negotiate legislative initiatives. “An essential step in planning these activities will be the selection of topics that provide the most benefit for all of thee parties involved. Thus, the LEAD Program will seek input from all parties on what they believe are relevant topics that will assist in efforts to build consensus in the National Assembly,” states the document.

The US government had hoped to strengthen the capacity to develop issue-based policy by hosting workshops to review techniques in researching and analyzing concerns and developing policies to address those concerns. Multi-stakeholder discussions with citizens, civil society, the private sector and others were also planned with the aim of developing legislative agenda and policy proposals.

IRI had also intended to provide non-material assistance to strengthen the research capabilities of political parties and offer solutions and as a result improve the effectiveness of the 65-seat National Assembly.

LEAD’s objective was also expected to build citizen engagement by having political stakeholders meaningfully engage with citizens through Town Hall Meetings, Multi-party issue forums to effectively convey policy positions and fully consider the input of citizens in policy making. “The Program will also help parties play a role in providing civic education to build citizen understanding of their roles and responsibilities and what their expectations should be of political parties and elected officials in regard to direct interaction with constituents,” states the document.

Strengthening the National Assembly and boosting citizens engagement  through legislative research and drafting,  discussion of women’s issues through a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus,  engagement of youth, and civic and voter education for the implementation of local government reform and local elections were also aspects of the project.