The USAID-funded $300M Leadership and Democracy Project (LEAD) is going full speed ahead as the government and the United States have finally reached an agreement on it.
“Our programme is back in business and we are delighted (the Guyana) government is going to be a part of the programme…we have a diplomatic note confirming Cabinet’s approval…basically giving us the green light to continue,” outgoing United States Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt told Stabroek News today in an interview. (See full story in tomorrow’s edition.)
Both countries announced in early May that they had agreed to temporarily put the contentious project on hold to facilitate talks between the two governments.
The May announcement was preceded by months of rancour over the terms of the project and whether the Guyana Government had been fully consulted by Washington on it.
At one point, the government revoked the work permit for the Canadian Head of the project. It had also said that Guyana’s sovereignty was being breached by the project.
Hardt in a February 16, 2014 address to the Rotary Club had defended the project and explained its attributes.
Hardt explained that one objective of LEAD was to see partnerships such as with Rotary. “While we certainly do seek close and productive ties with government we are also reaching beyond government to forge new partnerships with people and civic groups such as Rotary,” he said.
“We are promoting an array of educational exchanges, public outreach, including through new media such as Facebook, boosting entrepreneurism, working with young people and supporting free and vibrant media outlets,” he added.
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”, as he compared the programme to motherhood and apple pie.
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 have been raised by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger 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”
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 absence of a draftsman at Parliament has led to standoff between the government and the opposition over how bills passed by the National Assembly are handled. After the 2011 elections this issue had been raised by the opposition-led Parliament with the Speaker but there has been no progress more than two years after. The Attorney General had said that the opposition would have to find their own legal counsel to assist with bills etc.
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.