Gov’t does about-face on talks with US on democracy project

A government delegation will today again meet with United States Ambassador to Guyana Brendt Hardt to discuss the contentious USAID-funded Leader-ship and Democracy Project (LEAD), just days after the Donald Ramotar administration said it would not discuss the project while it was being implemented.

Calling the decision to proceed with the project “provocative,” the administration last week stated that there would be no further talks on the initiative unless it is suspended.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon had said the time had come for government to insist on its stance.

However yesterday Luncheon informed that government’s delegation will be meeting with Hardt at the Office of the President. Asked if his government was aware of elements of the project being implemented or halted and if this would form any grounds for the proposed talks today, Luncheon would only say “I would like to answer that question after tomorrow.”

The United States Embassy confirmed the meeting, saying, “The Ambassador will be meeting with government officials Thursday to discuss the LEAD program. We remain optimistic that such dialogue can lead to a mutually beneficial outcome for the government and people of Guyana,”

Hardt had met with government’s delegation—President Ramotar, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, and Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira—on March 27th last. However, Luncheon had explained that government became aware that the programme was still being implemented in its entirety and saw this as a premeditated act.

Hardt, when asked in February at a Rotary function if the programme was continuing, had said that it was. He explained that since it was a budgeted programme, contracts were already signed with employees and the contractor implementing it, the International Republican Institute (IRI), had specified project timelines. However, he echoed previous statements saying that he was open to talks with government at any time and that it was free to “get onboard” the project whenever it saw fit.

Government had said that there were areas of concern with the programme, including its belief that political parties could receive financial support through the project—an assertion denied by Hardt.

According to Hardt, the project is intended to promote understanding, consensus building, strengthen the National Assembly, and encourage greater citizen engagement. He has also said its core elements were proposed after extensive consultations with the government and other stakeholders over the course of the past year.

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