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LEAD will not advocate constitutional reform or violate Guyana’s sovereignty

US Ambassador Brent Hardt

United States Ambassador, Brent Hardt on Sunday rejected government’s claim that the US$1.2 million Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project was aimed at pushing constitutional reform.

“Let me make clear what LEAD is not: LEAD will not provide any funding to political parties. It does not seek to promote any changes to the Constitution. And, it in no way threatens Guyana’s sovereignty,” he said in address to the Rotary Club of Georgetown Central on the occasion of Annual World Understanding and Peace Observance.

Hardt’s comments were the first public specific reaction to assertions by the Guyana government that the three year project was aimed at policy formulation that could lead to constitutional reform.

The Donald Ramotar administration had earlier this year attacked the project and demanded that it be halted because government had not been properly consulted and involved in its design.

The project is being implemented by the International Republican Institute for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the aim of  promoting understanding, comity, and active citizen participation in Guyana.

Hardt gave no signal that the US has given in to the Guyana government’s repeated demand that the project be suspended before the two sides hold bilateral talks with a view to renegotiations.

Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira last week said government had received no word from the American diplomatic mission in Georgetown that the project had been put on hold. She, however, said a meeting was expected to be held later this week with US representatives.

After consulting with representatives of the government and the US embassy, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has concluded that the project is good for Guyana but advocated that the two sides iron out their difficulties.

The American Ambassador took the opportunity to restate that government and other stakeholders have been extensively consulted in developing the project aimed at taking advantage of the first opposition-controlled House / minority government at the November 2011 general election. “So when after these decades of investment, the outcome of the 2011 national elections created a new and unprecedented parliamentary outcome, we recognized that the so called “new dispensation” would offer the country historic opportunities for cooperation, but would also present complicated challenges,” he said.

The US is banking on LEAD to promote understanding, consensus building, strengthen the National Assembly, and encourage greater citizen engagement. The Obama administration expected some major strides under LEAD toward overcoming the political divisions that have constrained Guyana’s prosperity, contribute to the first local elections in 20 years, and continue the US’ support for greater political engagement

The first component seeks to encourage consensus-building in the National Assembly and facilitate more effective interaction between the Assembly and citizens. It proposes cross party negotiation workshops, speaker evenings for members of parliament, workshops on issue-based policy development, and multi-party issue forums where all parties select a representative to speak about a topic of public interest.

The second component seeks to strengthen the effectiveness of the National Assembly and boost citizen engagement with parliament. The US says the project will work to strengthen the capacity of Members of Parliament and National Assembly staff to investigate and research issues, draft legislation, and conduct analysis of legislative initiatives. To enhance legislative transparency, it will support enhancements to the Parliamentary website to ensure it includes current proposed legislation and schedules of committee hearings to facilitate the participation of experts, civil society and interested citizens. LEAD also seeks to support the establishment of a “Women’s Parliamentary Caucus” consisting of women from each of the parties represented in the Assembly. The caucus would offer a forum for the discussion of women’s issues in Guyana and a means to bring such issues to the Assembly in a collaborative way. There is also a proposed internship program for three UG law students to provide research and drafting support to the National Assembly. It is a rather extraordinary fact here in Guyana that the legislature, whose principal function is of course to legislate, has no independent legislative drafting capacity. That is a deficiency that urgently needs to be addressed.

Hardt further explained that the third LEAD component seeks to motivate and better equip Guyanese youth to constructively engage in political and civic processes. We are developing a series of program activities aimed at increasing youth interest in politics and civic affairs, while also building leadership skills among youth. These include youth debate clubs and youth civic education gatherings.

The fourth and final LEAD component involves civic and voter education relating to local elections and local government reform. “Here, LEAD seeks to work in partnership with stakeholders to enhance citizen education in the run up to anticipated local elections and recently approved local government reform legislation on the role of local government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens and elected officials,” said the Ambassador.

The opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has said that it has already tapped into LEAD for at least one local government education session on the Essequibo Coast. Assistance, that party said, did not include cash but the provision of stationery and transportation.The Alliance For Change (AFC) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) have both expressed unequivocal support for the project.

The governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has rejected the project as one aimed at providing a boost to opposition parties as part of a wider plot to improve their fortunes. But Ambassador Hardt  stressed that  he has made it clear publicly and to the government, from the outset of this USAID engagement that “we have been completely open and transparent.”