No talks with US under duress

- Luncheon says of democracy project

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday said the administration would not entertain a request by the United States government for talks on the $300M Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project while it is still being implemented despite Guyana’s objections.

Luncheon yesterday confirmed that the United States is standing by its position that a democracy project here would go ahead despite the government’s opposition to it but there now seems to the prospect of some dialogue to ease the stand-off between the two sides which has soured relations.

The US’ position on the project was conveyed to the Government of Guyana in response to a Note Verbale from Georgetown requesting clarification on an interview granted to Stabroek News by US Ambassador Brent Hardt, in which he said the project would proceed despite the government’s objections.

Luncheon disclosed that while the US is seeking to engage in bilateral discussions on the project, the Donald Ramotar administration will not do so while the project is being implemented. He stated too that government has begun crafting a response to the reply and this should be dispatched before the end of the week.

“I will confirm that a response has been given to the Government of Guyana …the response in essence calls on the Government of Guyana to engage the United States … We ain’t negotiating under duress. We are not discussing a project and its implementation whilst it’s being implemented,” Luncheon said.

He was at the time speaking at his weekly post-Cabinet press briefing.  It is unclear if in the interim Washington is continuing with the project. Several aspects had been in train at the time of the contretemps between the two governments.

Luncheon opined that Washington’s response signals that “They have no respect for what you [government] said. We [the US] are going ahead with what we have to do.”

Luncheon pointed out that even though the administration remains adamant that the project be pulled, it is open to re-negotiation on aspects of it and he pledged his willingness to re-craft it for the funding agency USAID if needed.

“We need to have a discussion. The administration feels it is not an insurmountable matter and we must find ways to address the issue but we will not hold discussions while the project is ongoing,” he said.

Luncheon last Novem-ber announced that the administration had rejected the project, which, among other aims, seeks to boost citizens’ engagement with local parliamentarians and improve overall governance. He had argued that his government had no input and said any notion of consultation was really “just cosmetic.”

The ruling PPP also 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,” it went on to state.

Luncheon has severely criticised Hardt, accusing him of challenging Guyana’s sovereignty after the ambassador said in the Stabroek News interview that the project would go ahead.

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 engaged on the project. Luncheon had even thanked the embassy for its “diligent” efforts to inform government.

Yesterday, Luncheon reiterated the claim that the country’s sovereignty had been violated, while noting that this is the view of the President and his Cabinet “What is most significant is that the Government of Guyana’s sovereign authority has been challenged,” he said.

Opposition figures and non-government groups have accused the government of contriving the charge of a violation of sovereignty in relation to the US project. They have argued that the project would be helpful considering that local government elections have not been held here since 1994. They have also pointed out that when it was in the opposition prior to the 1992 general elections, the PPP invited US intervention in many electoral areas without seeing it as a violation of sovereignty.

Washington recently took a hardline position on Ecuador.  It  cancelled aid to Ecuador worth US$32 million over the coming years after long-running disputes with the government of  President Rafael Correa.




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