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Will US-Guyana talks on democracy project drag on?

US Ambassador, Brent Hardt and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon about to go into the latter’s office for the first round of talks after announcing the suspension of the LEAD project.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon on Thursday did not rule out the Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project being stalled, now that the US and Guyana have agreed to discuss the project design.

“I have heard that comment but as I said before the investments that have been made both sides in this project culminated in the agreements that have been met today makes that conclusion not impossible but just unlikely, not impossible but just unlikely,” he told reporters when asked whether the decision to reengage could lead to the project being stalled.

With speculation in some quarters that either local or general election could be held this year , US Ambassador Brent Hardt commented on whether the reengagement process could see LEAD being stalled beyond either polls.  “I don’t see why that will benefit anybody,” said Hardt.

No time frame has been set by which the talks should end.

The project being funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Washington DC-headquartered International Republican Institute (IRI) has a huge component on building political consensus on issues rather than race, and local government voter education and local government management.

The Ambassador shrugged off questions that the revocation of LEAD Chief of Party, Glenn Bradbury’s work permit forced the US into agreeing to reengage the Guyana government on the project design. Instead, Hardt said the two sides have been in discussions for some time now.

He expressed optimism that the two sides would resolve their differences because various components of LEAD were encapsulated in the 2009 Governing Justly and Democratically agreement between USAID and the Guyana government. “I’m confident that we can reach a resolution and I think my confidence in this buoyed by the fact that many of the things that we are talking about and we will be talking about have previously been part of bilateral discussions between our governments on which we have been able to agree in the past,” he said.

Luncheon hoped that the reengagement would lead to a “mutually beneficial outcome” now that government has gotten the US to come to the table while the project has been put on hold. “What essentially we have had to deal with and I am of the opinion has been resolved is a process of reengagement but not under duress,” he said.

The Head of the Presidential Secretariat did not provide specific areas of concern that will be raised with the US Ambassador who said he was looking forward to receiving and addressing them. “We have repeatedly made clear to the government that we are prepared to modify and adjust once we get to discuss those specifics and I think that’s what we are here to do today, that’s the path that was outlined by Dr. Luncheon in our correspondence over the past couple of weeks,” he said.

Going into the talks with Hardt Thursday morning after the news briefing, Luncheon maintained that the Guyana government has not been a party to the LEAD project and its activities.

Luncheon has cited  USAID’s  hiring of the International Republican Institute (IRI) to implement LEAD without government’s involvement as one of the concerns. Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee has alleged that Bradbury had been approaching organisations like the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), University of Guyana and a number of parliamentary committees without going through their heads.

The PPP is on record as saying that LEAD has been providing support to the political opposition, a charge that the US embassy has denied.