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Leadership and Democracy project on stream with greater govt involvement; US denies hidden motive

Charge D’ Affaires of the US Embassy, Brian Hunt Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon at a joint news conference to announce

The United States (US) and Guyana have reached final agreement on the design and implementation of the American-funded Leadership and Democracy Project, now that the way has been cleared for the Donald Ramotar administration to be more involved.

“A large part of our effort was to ensure that Government of Guyana’s viewpoint was reflected, that the government felt that government institutions were fully participating in the programme, ensuring that the government had- as is quite rightly the case- a significant and in some cases a leading role in making ensure that the programme activities were working towards the benefit of Guyanese people,”  Deputy Chief-of-Mission of the US Embassy, Brian Hunt told a joint news conference with the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Luncheon.

After the US embassy had opted to go ahead with the project despite government’s private and public concerns about not being consulted and involved in the design and implementation of the project, government had disapproved the project and rescinded the work permit to LEAD’s Chief of Party, Glenn Bradbury.   His permit and extension of stay have been once again approved now that the project is back on track. Asked why government was not previously involved in the way that it now is, Hunt reiterated that the US had reached out to the government initially. He acknowledged that the government had exercised its right to express some of its concerns and so the decision had been taken to address them to “ensure that the government was fully on board with where we were going to head.”

“It would not have been, in our view, a productive activity to simply rush head long forward without ensuring that the Government of Guyana, who is admittedly an important stakeholder in the entire democracy and governance process, was comfortable with the sort of assistance that we were going to be able to move forward on,” he said.

Hunt dismissed claims that the US$1.2 million project was aimed at removing the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration from office by boosting the electoral chances of the opposition. “In the debate that ensued around the LEAD program, things have been said or written about a possible “hidden” US government agenda being present. I want to make it absolutely clear to all Guyanese that no such agenda ever existed,” said Hunt. He assured that LEAD’s only agenda was to assist Guyanese in charting and strengthening the democratic future that they, themselves, identify for their country with tools, expertose and opportunities to help facilitate conversations on national issues. “The newly designed LEAD program appropriately recognises tat Guyana’s democratic future is one that must, at its core, be shaped by Guyanese. It seeks not to define that democratic future but rather to support Guyanese stakeholders in defining it for themselves,” he said.

The American envoy stressed that LEAD would not be providing assistance to political parties. “Let me be very clear. There is no component of assistance to political parties that makes up part of the LEAD programme,” he said. However, he noted that as the US seeks to strengthen parliament; the Speaker, government and opposition whips, political leaders in the House and parliamentarians would be actively engaged in participating in a range of programmes.  The project provides for engagements and support of the work of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) , Women and Gender Equality Commission and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. The LEAD Programme is expected to organise a discussion with civil societyu organisations on public information and education in relation to local government and local government elections.

For his part, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat said government was relying more on the process that has been agreed to but would still keep its eyes open about the role of the Washington DC-based International Republican Institute (IRI) in implementing the project on behalf of the financier, US Agency for International Development (USAID). “Indeed, whilst one cannot dispense with those instances, one cannot dispense with those sentiments; certainly process- a fairly well-established process contributes enormously towards allaying fears on the one side and concerns about the use of fear on the other side,” he said.

LEAD aims to strengthen the work of the National Assembly and build consensus around important national issues, civic education for local government elections, encourage greater participating in civic life by women and youth.