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Release govt’s files on US-funded democracy project

First, I must express my most sincere gratitude to you, and by extension the Government of Guyana, for responding to my concerns regarding democracy, trust and tragedy in our nation. I hope that our interaction will inspire generations to come. I hope it serves as evidence that our leaders, our politicians, like you, are not unreachable or unwilling to engage with our people. I hope that it serves as an example of the rational manner in which such discussions must be conducted.

I have noted your recommendation that I do not “confuse opinions with facts” as it regards the USAID Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project. As a matter of fact Dr. Luncheon, I arrived at my current position on the issue after examining your public disclosures and those of US Ambassador Brent Hardt. I have since perused a set of correspondence between Government and US officials on the LEAD project and this only strengthens my position.

I still do not believe that Government’s concern about the alleged high handed manner of the US is the only reason behind refusing LEAD. Note that I am not dismissing Government’s concern. But I am saying that based on the data I have examined it is simply not possible, not logical that this can be the only reason. Now we shall proceed to examine some facts, truths, evidence if you prefer that term.

It is fact that on October 18, 2012 US Ambassador Brent Hardt wrote to President Donald Ramotar informing him that “USAID is planning to implement an initiative to enhance democratic processes and governance institutions in Guyana by strengthening the capacity of political parties in Parliament”. In the same correspondence Ambassador Hardt noted that he was “writing to solicit (Government’s) support in coordinating a meeting with appropriate leaders within (the PPP/C) to hear your insights”.

Dr. Luncheon, it is also fact that on October 29, 2012 President Ramotar met with Ambassador Hardt and USAID representatives. On November 29, 2012 Ambassador Hardt wrote to President Ramotar thanking him for the meeting. In this letter, Ambassador Hardt was very clear that “the information [Government] provided was very helpful in allowing us to finalize the scope of work USAID will be supporting in its planned Democracy and Governance activity for Guyana”.

Based on these facts, it is clear that as early as October 2012 the US had been consulting Government about a “planned Democracy and Governance activity for Guyana” and that Government was willingly participating. At this point, there is no indication that the US has said to the Government of Guyana “Here is the LEAD project, you must sign it and you must participate in it”. Where is the fait accompli?

Further Dr. Luncheon, it is also fact that more than a year after Government had first began discussions with the US about what would become the LEAD project Cabinet disapproved it. It is fact that from the beginning you have been contending that Government refused the project due to concerns about the lack of consultation.

It is clear from the correspondence released by the US Embassy (the letters I have quoted above) that consultation has indeed been taking place. Or is it Dr. Luncheon, that there is a misunderstanding between us? Have we interpreted “consultation” to mean different things? Is the process of formally meeting with US officials and discussing the project (which has been taking place since October 2012) not to be interpreted as “consultation”?

In your recent letter to me you again state: “The details I provided publicly clearly established that the United States designed, funded the project and contracted a firm to implement the project before bringing it to the attention of the Government of Guyana.” So Dr. Luncheon, your contention, I take it, is not that the Government was never consulted but that consultation took place after all of these things occurred?

As a matter of fact, Ambassador Hardt wrote to you on May 20, 2013 about the firm that had been awarded the contract for the project. In his letter he informed you that following “earlier consultations on the USAID/Guyana Elections and Political Processes Fund Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) Project, USAID has made an award to the International Republican Institute (IRI) for implementation of the Leadership and Democracy project”.

Clearly, Government had been involved in “consultations” with the US before the contract was awarded to IRI for the LEAD project. Ambassador Hardt’s words to you suggest that the issue of awarding the project contract had come up in “earlier consultations”. So what exactly is Government’s contention here Dr. Luncheon? Is it that Government is saying it should have enjoyed closer involvement in the process that saw the awarding of a contract by the USAID for a US funded project?

In all of this Dr. Luncheon, where is the US’s alleged high-handed manner? It is primarily the information available in these correspondences, and not merely my opinion or belief on the matter, which seems to all but dismiss this concern about US high-handedness. So Dr. Luncheon, how can this be the only or central reason for refusing to participate in LEAD when it has been so weakened?

I hope that now you are less perplexed about my position. The things I have presented thus far are facts, truths, evidence. In order to dismantle the merit of the data I have relied upon, you are left with two options: you can either contend that the correspondence released by the US embassy has been fabricated or is false, untrue, misconstrued (whichever term is preferable) or you can contend that it is limited in that it only presents one side of the conversation (that is only those letters the US would have sent to Government).

The first option would be a diplomatic disaster and I would be left with no choice but to ask you: where is your evidence that the US is lying or misconstruing information? If it is the second option then the solution would be simple: the Government can release its side of the correspondence so that a more holistic view of what has been taking place can be gained.

Further, I have also cited your own words as published in the Stabroek News and on Demerara Waves (the online publication). So unless, we accuse them of misconstruing your position on the LEAD project then the data that has been available to me as it regards your stance is also fact, truth, or evidence. So it would seem, Dr. Luncheon that my position on the matter has indeed been based upon facts, truth or evidence.

Finally, allow me to briefly address this issue regarding what you have described as an attack on our sovereignty and Ambassador Hardt’s “apparent contempt for the Government of Guyana”. I agree that no foreign entity has the right to come into our country and conduct business at will. The fact that I thirst for the democratic opportunities that LEAD promises does not mean I support an attack on our sovereignty. Such a notion would be ridiculous.

However, as you are well aware Dr. Luncheon, Ambassador Hardt’s alleged display of contempt came after Cabinet’s disapproval of LEAD. The issue is and remains Government’s refusal of the LEAD project prior to the ambassador’s alleged conduct. It is sad that matters of sovereignty have arisen but our debate is not about this and this has not been Government’s cited reason for disapproving LEAD.

You asked me “Where in the world of international law and relationships would a foreign government openly behave so outrageously?” I believe that as it concerns the disapproval of LEAD the question we should be asking ourselves is: Where in the world of diplomatic relations does a government publicly accuse a member of the diplomatic community in such a manner? Would it not have been more in keeping with diplomacy for Government to meet with Ambassador Hardt and attempt to sort out this matter?

On January 8, 2014 Demerara Waves (in an article headlined “No negotiation of US-funded democracy project under duress-Luncheon”) reported you as saying “We ain’t negotiating under duress. We are not discussing a project and its implementation whilst it’s being implemented”. I felt some hope when I read this Dr. Luncheon because I interpreted it as meaning that Government is willing to renegotiate if US stalls LEAD implementation. Has Government made this clear to the US officials? Is there a possibility that some agreement can be reached so that Guyanese, especially those of my generation, can benefit from LEAD?

I am sure, Dr. Luncheon, you have recognized that I am not attacking our Government but rather I am exercising my democratic right to question the actions taken by them for the greater good of our nation. I do not believe that denying Guyana the LEAD project is for the greater good of our country, of our people. If we do not examine every available side, if we do not question endlessly and reassess our position on these matters then how else will we arrive at truth? How else will Guyana progress?