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US-democracy project in gear again after govt gets assurances

American Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt on Monday said the United States (US)-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project has restarted after government received assurances that it was not aimed at influencing electoral outcomes, legislative reform or policy changes.

 “There was always a belief in a highly partisan environment that somehow, we were seeking some political outcome here and I’ve repeatedly made clear we have no interest in what party is ruling Guyana. That’s entirely a matter for the voters of the country to decide,” he told Demerara Waves Online News in an interview just weeks before his tour-of-duty ends.

The governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) had accused the US of using the LEAD project to enhance the electoral fortunes of the opposition.

On the other hand, Ambassador Hardt stressed that the US was interested in an effectively governed Guyana where the administration would deliver safety and security to Guyanese, combat drug trafficking and have an open and transparent system that is attractive to investment. “Once we were able to make clear that this engagement was really more focused on those processes to ensure that governance works effectively and that we don’t have an interest in outcomes or political outcomes or which issues are discussed I think we were then able to put the water under the bridge move forward with a very productive engagement,” he added.

Just one month after the two sides agreed to suspend the US$1.2 million project and hold talks on a mutually acceptable project, the American envoy said they have reached agreement on two components – parliamentary and local government civic education. He expected that Guyana’s cabinet would this week also approve the remaining components on women and youth.

Hardt said a consultative oversight mechanism would be established to monitor the LEAD projects.

“They are back on track. They have been back on track since last week and IRI (International Republican Institute) is back at work and so we are moving forward,” he said.  The American Ambassador said the LEAD Chief of Party, Glenn Bradbury was expected to have his work permit restored after it was revoked by the Guyana government at the height of the controversy over the project.

The Guyana government had maintained that it was never consulted, although Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh had inked a 2009 agreement with the United States Agency for International Development on Governing Justly and Democratically.

The American envoy acknowledged that there were some misunderstandings during the roll-out of the three-year project.

Now that total agreement is nearing, Hardt said the US and Guyana government have agreed to the pace of meetings and consultations as part of a “doable compact document” that has removed lingering misunderstanding. Asked whether the two sides were able to iron out differences over government’s claims that LEAD was partly aimed at advocating consultations that could lead to legislative and constitutional reform, he said “we are not advocating policies or constitutional changes.” “Those are all for parties, the people of Guyana. We are simply trying to reinforce policies that can help people to come to those discussions about issues and policies and whatever changes they want to propose,” he said.

The embassy here has said that  LEAD  is designed to benefit the Government and people of Guyana through the promotion of understanding and consensus-building within the National Assembly; greater citizen engagement with Parliament; civic education on local government and greater civic engagement among women and youth.