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Guyana, US long agreed to focus of democracy project- document

Even as President Donald Ramotar has effectively ruled out giving the green-light for the United States (US)-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project, it appears that the Guyana government has broken an almost five-year old agreement through which the project would have been implemented to help heal ethnic polarization and promote issue-based politics.

While the President has said that Guyana and the US have never agreed to, were never consulted or were never part of any forum on the programme;  Demerara Waves Online News has seen a copy of an assistance agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Guyana government  titled “Governing Justly and Democratically”.

Ramotar has said that the absence of consultation or agreement was the reason for revoking the work permit for the Chief of Party for the LEAD Project, Glenn Bradbury. Goverment had repeatedly called on the US to cease implementing the project to pave the way for talks on arriving at a consensus on the project design. 

The US has said that it welcomes the Guyana government’s willingness to talk about the project.

The September 18, 2009 agreement was signed by USAID Guyana Mission Director, Carol Horning and Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh. An outline of the US$1,250,000 LEAD project largely reflects the four-year old agreement.

The two sides had also agreed to jointly adequately monitor and evaluate the programme “to assess progress towards fulfilment of what is required under the program areas and elements”.

The “Governing Justly and Democratically”  agreement was crafted based on Democracy and Governance Assessments conducted in 2006 and 2008 that essentially found that “ethno-political mobilization will be slow to change, but must be addressed if Guyana is to realize its great potential.”

“Given these assessments and potential future opportunities, USAID’s follow-on Democracy and Governance program will focus on supporting fora and encouraging opportunities for discussion and consensus building among stakeholders: within and among the political parties, between them and key organisations within civil society and the private sector,” states the document.

The USAID plan envisages supporting selected private sector and civil society organisations to make them sustainable in light of dwindling international donor support. Other areas of support include ensuring free, fair and violence-free local and national elections as well as strengthening newly-elected local government bodies and educating citizens in target communities about their civic rights and responsibilities.

Also in the area of local government, USAID and the Guyanese administration had agreed to support the implementation of reforms, provide technical assistance and training for the capacity building for newly elected councillors and staff to improve local government operations, develop and implement activities to build trust among local government bodies and citizens, support the formation of an association of local government bodies to represent local interests at the national level and achieve greater accountability to citizens.

Electoral assistance was expected to focus on public and voter education and the training of polling day staff.

A huge chunk of the assistance programme was aimed at helping Guyana reap the social and economic benefits of racial harmony and societal stability by getting Guyanese politicians to resolve ethno-political differences and instead focus on issues. “Several Guyanese and non-Guyanese citizens presume that decision-making is influenced by party interest and indirectly by ethnic considerations,” states the document.

The Guyana government and USAID had agreed to provide opportunities for dialogue and consensus building by having political parties, the private sector, civil society organisations, academics and leading experts brainstorm major global, regional and domestic issues that are likely to affect Guyana’s socio-economic development over the next five years.

The US was also expected to assist “all political parties” on the use of polling, platform development, internal organisation and financing, candidate debates, constituency and public outreach.

Guyana and the US had also agreed that there would have been a high-level diplomatic policy dialogue, possibly with input from the Guyanese diaspora, aimed at increasing tolerance and ethnic harmony.

The promotion of  “issue advocacy”  and rights and responsibilities in the public, private and sectors, civil society as well as the National Assembly had been also envisaged in the assistance agreement.

The ruling Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) fears that the US has been funneling support to the political opposition through the LEAD project.