As government continues to seethe over the controversial $300 million US-funded democracy and governance project, foreign diplomats and analysts say the administration may have some grounds for its objection.
On November 26, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon announced that government had rejected the $300 million Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project, which, among other goals, aims to boost citizens’ engagement with local parliamentarians and improve overall governance. He claimed that his government had no input. Luncheon said government had a problem with the programme as it was conceptualized, funding acquired and the contractor hired all by the US so it was really a fait accompli. He said that against this background any notion of consultation was really “just cosmetic.”
The ruling PPP expressed concern saying it believed the project was implemented in collusion with the opposition to hasten its exit from office. “There is deep suspicion in political circles that this particular project was conceived to bolster the political fortunes of the opposition political parties in Guyana. Small wonder why the political opposition and sections of the media are enamored with the project and have gobbled it up with hunger and satisfaction,” a statement from the party read.
“After all, the money tree has now sprung up in the opposition camp to fund trips to the interior of our country, and radio and TV time, in short, to provide funding for activities of the opposition political parties so that they may have some political advantage over the PPP. From all indications it appears that we have turned full circle to the extent that we have returned to the days of the mid 1960s when the AFLCIO funded opposition trade unions and political parties to destabilize the Jagan-led PPP government during the 1962-1964 period,” it went on to state.
Luncheon, who is leading government’s charge on this matter, has severely criticized United States Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt accusing him of challenging Guyana’s sovereignty after the ambassador said that the project would go ahead.
“When Dr Luncheon said that [he] was right on that score… It is not right for the US Ambassador to go ahead with the project after government’s rejection. It can sour country-to-county relations. At the end of the day it is the government that is charge,” one analyst told Stabroek News.
The US Ambassador had told this newspaper that there was no truth in the claim that the administration had not been consulted and the US embassy released a series of correspondence showing that from the start the administration was actively en-gaged on the project. Luncheon had even thank-ed the embassy for its “diligent” efforts to inform government.
The government has since sent a diplomatic note to the US State Department and challenged the US Ambassador to prove that USAID has a right to go ahead with the project here despite government’s objections on grounds of a lack of consultation. It said Hardt violated ambassadorial duties by pushing ahead although given a red light by government
Luncheon said that as at Tuesday last there had been no response from the State Department.
Diplomats both current and past have offered comments at this newspaper’s invitation.
“An ambassador is sent to a country and accepted and accredited by that country. There are certain conditionality requirements between the ambassador and the receiving state. He cannot act in any matter which touches and is concerned with internal politics, sovereignty and such issues,” one analyst said.
“Government has said that the ambassador stepped out and it’s a sovereignty issue now. But before we can make any judgment, the question first needs to be asked what is the agreement with government and USAID because in all of this USAID is still the executing agency and government has not cancelled any arrangement with them so that agreement should still be honoured,” another diplomat pointed out.
A former diplomat told this publication that the situation was “complicated and layered” and could not be held to a single concretized point as there are many determinants. None-theless, he said that if government has stated its rejection then it was expected that the ambassador would obey within the laws of the country. He suggests that the project be pulled since an adamant stance by the ambassador could lead to souring relations between Guyana and the United States.
“There are so many sides to this and there is no right and wrong really. On one hand you have government saying the US acted out of protocol and is interfering in internal affairs but it is the same government that cheered them when they supported Amaila and anti-money laundering,” he said. “If they are saying that the embassy needs approval for every action then are we to believe that if USAID has a project with the private sector or gives wheelchairs it needs government approval? Government needs to say what is the agreement with USAID and what is the general protocol when projects are implemented. They cannot move the goal post only when it suits them,” he added.