Revoked -govt withdraws permit for head of controversial US democracy project

The government yesterday announced the revocation of the work permit of the Head of the controversial US Leadership and Demo-cracy (LEAD) project triggering the most serious crisis in relations with Washington since 1992.

Yesterday, the US Embassy here had no comment on the government’s decision but sources say a response can be expected from the US State Depart-ment shortly.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon announced the revocation of Glen Bradbury’s work permit and extension of stay at weekly press briefing. He said it was “based on the conclusion that the immigration laws of Guyana have been offended by Mr Bradbury and his actions in Guyana.”

Glen Bradbury (right) with US Ambassador Brent Hardt (left) and members of parliament at the launching of the LEAD project in July of 2013. (SN file photo)
Glen Bradbury (right) with US Ambassador Brent Hardt (left) and members of parliament at the launching of the LEAD project in July of 2013. (SN file photo)

Luncheon stated that “it is a fact that the revocation has taken place and it is equally a fact that Mr Bradbury, a Canadian citizen has had the revocation brought to the attention both of his employer, the US government through its Ambassador and through the Canadian High Commission.”

The revocation of Bradbury’s work permit would be seen as an escalation of the row with the US over the project. It comes after the US had stated that it was going to ahead with the project with other stakeholders notwithstanding the government’s objections. The project was inaugurated in July, 2013 but matters came to a head late last year when the government announced that it was abandoning it because of a lack of consultation, a charge that Washington strongly rejected.

Luncheon told the media yesterday that Guyana was committed to re-engage in the LEAD project but that this would not be possible if the current activities of the LEAD Project were to be implemented. He said that cabinet had reached out to the US Ambassador, Brent Hardt, and requested that the implementation of the project be put on hold.

Luncheon said that the American Ambassador committed to a formal response in a timely manner. On April 24, Luncheon met with Hardt and expressed again government’s position on the contentious USAID-funded project and the Ambassador promised to communicate this to his government.

“The Head of the Presidential Secretariat conveyed the Government of Guyana’s perspectives on a path forward for continued cooperation,” the US Embassy responded when asked by Stabroek News last week for an update after that meeting.

“The Ambassador agreed to share those perspectives with USAID and the U.S. Department of State with a view to finding a mutually agreeable way forward that would support the interests of the people of Guyana in strong and vibrant democratic institutions, civic education in advance of local government elections, and broader civic engagement among women and young Guyanese,” the statement added.

The administration has been very vocal in condemning the USAID-funded LEAD Project and has stated that for the US to continue with the project while the government was so clearly opposed was “provocative”. After the April 24 meeting, Luncheon had stated that the time had come for government to insist on its stance. When he was asked during yesterday press briefing if the revocation of Bradbury’s work permit was the beginning of this insistence, Luncheon said that he would prefer to remain with the facts and that a revocation had taken place.

The meeting between Luncheon and Hardt occurred two days after the Donald Ramotar administration said it would not discuss the project while it was being implemented.

Luncheon, who had been on sick leave for several months stated yesterday that back in March he was amazed at the assertions by the Ambassador that the Government of Guyana was informed that the project was still going ahead notwithstanding Georgetown’s objections. He called the ambassador’s comments a revelation and said that nether the government nor the public was made aware that the LEAD Project would still be implemented.

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 on-board” the project whenever it saw fit.

At the Rotary function, he stressed that LEAD will not provide funding to political parties neither does it seek to promote any changes to the constitution.  Said the Ambassador, “It in no way threatens Guyana’s sovereignty. What it does is seek to promote understanding consensus building, strengthen the National Assembly, and encourage greater citizen engagement”.

He delved into the genesis of the programme pointing out that the United States has, through USAID, been involved in strengthening Guyana’s democracy and governance for over two decades.

“So when after these decades of investment, the outcome of the 2011 national elections created a new and unprecedented parliamentary outcome, we recognized that the so called `new dispensation’ would offer the country historic opportunities for cooperation, but would also present complicated challenges. Although our USAID mission had been folded into a regional office in Barbados, I made the case to Washington that by continuing our support for Democracy and Governance at this critical juncture in Guyana’s history, we could support some major strides toward overcoming the political divisions that have constrained Guyana’s prosperity, contribute to the first local elections in 20 years, and continue our support for greater political engagement among young people and women. My colleagues in Washington at USAID agreed, and, on the basis of these goals, decided to fund a program whose details and contours would be developed through consultations with all parties in Guyana and an array of stakeholders”, he told Rotarians.

He noted that some may ask why the United States given its own internal difficulties would pursue such a scheme here. He stated that US Secretary of State John Kerry recently pointed out that “the United States is the first to admit that our democracy, too, has always been a work in progress. We know that. We’re proud that we work at it openly, transparently, accountably to reform it, to fix it, and to strengthen it when needed. So I assure you we come to this conversation with humility.”

He addressed two of the claims that had been raised by Luncheon.

“First of all, let me make clear what LEAD is not: LEAD will not provide any funding to political parties. It does not seek to promote any changes to the Constitution. And, it in no way threatens Guyana’s sovereignty.

“What it does do is seek to promote understanding, consensus building, strengthen the National Assembly, and encourage greater citizen engagement”, he declared.

He asserted that the core elements of the programme were proposed after extensive consultations with the government and other stakeholders over the course of the past year.

The first component, he said,  endeavours to encourage consensus-building in the National Assembly and facilitate more effective interaction between the Assembly and citizens. It envisages cross party negotiation workshops, speaker evenings for members of parliament, workshops on issue-based policy development, and multi-party issue fora where all parties select a representative to speak about a topic of public interest.

He said the second component seeks to bolster the effectiveness of the National Assembly and broaden citizen engagement with parliament.

“Here, it will work to strengthen the capacity of Members of Parliament and National Assembly staff to investigate and research issues, draft legislation, and conduct analysis of legislative initiatives. To enhance legislative transparency, it will support enhancements to the Parliamentary website to ensure it includes current proposed legislation and schedules of committee hearings to facilitate the participation of experts, civil society and interested citizens. LEAD also seeks to support the establishment of a “Women’s Parliamentary Caucus” consisting of women from each of the parties represented in the Assembly. The caucus would offer a forum for the discussion of women’s issues in Guyana and a means to bring such issues to the Assembly in a collaborative way. There is also a proposed internship program for three UG law students to provide research and drafting support to the National Assembly”

 Extraordinary

He told Rotarians that it was a “rather extraordinary fact” that the legislature whose principal function was to legislate has no independent legislative drafting capacity. “That is a deficiency that urgently needs to be addressed”, he declared.

The third LEAD component, Hardt noted,  seeks to motivate and better equip Guyanese youth to participate in political and civic processes.. These activities include youth debate clubs and youth civic education gatherings.

The fourth LEAD component, he said involves civic and voter education relating to local elections and local government reform.

“Here, LEAD seeks to work in partnership with stakeholders to enhance citizen education in the run up to anticipated local elections and recently approved local government reform legislation on the role of local government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens and elected officials”, Hardt said.

The revocation of Bradbury’s work permit signals a new phase in relations between the PPP and Washington. During the Cold War the US had been accused of collaborating with forces hostile to the PPP to oust it from office during the 60s. With the end of the Cold War, the US and other western countries pressed for free and fair elections which enabled a PPP/C victory in 1992 over the PNC. Georgetown’s resistance to the present project is seen as reflecting fears from its present minority status following the results of the 2011 general elections.

Diplomatic observers say that Washington is taking an increasingly harder line on Guyana in relation to matters connected to governance and this could eventually draw in other western countries.

Washington has pointed out that since 2009 collaboration has been conducted within the framework of the Assistance Agreement between the United States of America and Guyana for Governing Justly and Democratically which runs through September 2015.

Both the Private Sector Commission and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry have endorsed the LEAD project on numerous occasions.

 

 

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