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US-funded democracy project targets race-based voting- Former minister

Dr. Henry Jeffrey

Former Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) government minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey has welcomed the United States (US)-funded democracy project, saying that it would help Guyanese vote on issues rather than race.

“I think when you have a project like that it will emphasise people voting on issues, people not taking race into consideration,” he told Roundtable, a television programme broadcast Sunday on the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN).

Noting that the PPPC has found itself in a “difficult situation” because it holds a one-seat minority status in the House, Jeffrey contended that it was not in that party’s interest for the electorate to move away from race-based politics. “Now that it is in a minority, any real movement from it can cause major problems,” said Jeffrey who was minister of housing, labour, health, education and foreign trade between 1992 and 2008 when he stepped down.

The University of Guyana Lecturer in International Relations believed that the East Indian-dominated PPPC-led administration was justifiably uncomfortable with the LEAD project. “It has come to realise that you have people throwing around 300 million dollars, telling people not to worry with ethnicity and race in voting and it can see that this can affect it in the margins and I think it just came a bit late,” he said.

The PPP itself has attributed the erosion of its support at the 2011 general election to short memories about the past under the largely Afro-Guyanese backed Peoples National Congress (PNC)-led administration, a younger voting population and voter apathy. The PNC-Reform is the major partner in the opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

Jeffrey reasoned that if the Guyana government insisted that the Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project be quashed over concerns about sovereignty, the US could still funnel the US$1.250 million to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and achieve the same objective. “Monies and all of that can always be reformulated and given to various NGOs to do precisely what the programme wants to do,”  he said.

The former government minister was unsure that the US embassy could proceed with the project if government demanded a halt to the project designed to involve politicians across the political divide, youths and women in crafting policies and other initiatives to address issues that they would have identified.

He criticized government for crying too late that it has not been consulted by the United States (US) about a democracy and go.

The administration of President Donald Ramotar has accused the US of violating its sovereignty by insisting that the project would go ahead regardless of government’s claims that it has disapproved the project because it was not properly consulted.

The Guyana government has contended that the US has virtually rammed through the project because funding has been approved, the contracting company- International Republican Institute (IRI)- hired and the project conceptualised before engaging the Ramotar administration.

For its part, the US has maintained that the Guyana government has been adequately consulted and engagements between the two sides would continue. Congressional funding for LEAD is being passed through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon has said that government’s major objections about LEAD include the direct resourcing of political parties and their engagement in policy formulation that could lead to constitutional reform. Instead, the Guyana government would have preferred if political parties had been engaged through institutions such as the National Assembly. Luncheon has also accused the US of breaching an agreement between USAID and Guyana on the procedures to be followed in engaging government and implementing projects here.

The US embassy has declined to respond to further questions on the LEAD project, saying that American Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt is due to return later this month.