It was with utter shock and awe that I read your news story, `Gov’t revokes work permit of LEAD project head,’ (April 30). I am now more strongly convinced than ever that the PPP is deathly afraid of democracy after claiming to champion its return in 1992. More specifically, the PPP is deathly afraid of Local Government elections.
I vividly recall reading the government-friendly Guyana Times carrying the story of the launch of the US-sponsored LEAD project with the caption, `USAID launches project to strengthen Parliament,’ (July 29, 2013). Accompanying the story was a photograph of U.S. Ambassador to Guyana D Brent Hardt; Alliance For Change leader Khemraj Ramjattan; A Partnership for National Unity Member of Parliament Joseph Harmon; People’s Progressive Party/Civic Member of Parliament Indra Chandarpal; APNU MP Africo Selman; Culture, Youth and Sport Minister Dr Frank Anthony; and LEAD Chief of Party Glenn D Bradbury.
At the launching ceremony held at Cara Lodge, Georgetown, Guyana Times reported that ‘the project will focus on fortifying the National Assembly by encouraging consensus building, and working with civil society and the public to boost citizens’ engagement with the National Assembly and all parties to support the legislature’s role as an effective deliberative body’. For his part, Ambassador Hardt expressed excitement and deemed the project timely. He noted that his country recognised that the new dispensation in Parliament could pose many challenges which, if not handled with a spirit of compromise and a focus on national interest, can lead to a stalemate and frustration. “Guyana’s National Assembly is grappling with serious issues that will shape the future of the country. How successfully the parties navigate these (issues) will help shape the future for the people of Guyana.” Ambassador Hardt, Guyana Times continued, further intimated that in the preceding months, there were ‘meetings with stakeholders from across the political spectrum to help shape the outline of the project, identify priorities, and chart a path toward successful implementation. He even lauded stakeholders who gave their time, while observing that their perspectives and feedback have been invaluable in identifying priorities for advancing democracy and strengthening political processes to achieve consensus and constructive political engagement’.
The US Ambassador then disclosed that one of the core messages heard from all stakeholders and all parties was the critical importance of holding Local Government elections. In light of that, he voiced his hope that all parties can come together to ‘approve the (LG) legislation before the Assembly and pave the way for elections this year (2013)’. He also affirmed that the USAID will immediately support citizen education efforts in preparation for Local Government elections and renewed local governance.
Now, contrast all of that with the fact that after the PPP was originally on board with the project, it eventually soured in fear that the US was out to help the opposition parties in Guyana vote out the PPP. Like as though this is not on the wish list of many, if not most Guyanese. It then started looking for excuses and reasons to stop the project, including the bizarre charge that the project was funneling money to the opposition parties and other groups desirous of promoting democracy. Then came the passage in Parliament of the Local Governance bills, one of which the President refused to assent to. Still, no date was announced for LG elections in 2013.
The PPP’s true intentions became known in March this year when Minister in the Ministry of Local Government Norman Whittaker, said that the vast majority of the populace is not prepared for the holding of Local Government polls by August 1st, adding that to go ahead would result in the waste of a lot of money. (Majority of citizens not ready for local polls by August 1 deadline–Whittaker, SN, March 7, 2014). But that was contradicted by Whittaker’s predecessor, former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud, whom SN cited (“Local gov’t polls by mid-2014 – Persaud,” SN, October 12, 2013) as saying that ‘GECOM was in elections mode as Local Government elections may be held by mid-2014, and that approval was given to GECOM to display elections-related material within all of the 71 Local authorities comprising the six municipalities and 65 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs).
There were even plans to ramp up public awareness exercises and that regional councillors will also be engaged’. On March 18, 2012, Persaud was again cited by SN as saying ‘local government elections could not be held last year (2011) because of the holding of general elections.
He said that the PPP/C, in its elections manifesto, promised to hold local government elections within one year of elections, (“Gov’t committed to local gov’t polls as soon as possible, say ministers.”)
The PPP promised in its 2011 manifesto to hold LG elections in one year after 2011 elections. That’s what Ganga Persaud said! So, on the one hand, the LEAD project was geared towards educating and helping local voters better understand democracy and preparing them for LG elections, but, on the other hand, the PPP, which seemed ready for LG elections and was on board with LEAD, had a change of heart and said the voters were not ready, then expels the LEAD project’s leader on the contrived basis of violating work rules.
It was nothing short of pure coincidence that Stabroek News would feature a Page One Comment on April 30, “Local Government Elections,” on the same day Mr. Bradbury’s work visa was reportedly revoked. It was a rather edifying commentary that should provoke Guyanese everywhere to raise their collective voices and demand the PPP to immediately adhere to the constitution that says Local Government elections must be held this year, regardless of who is ready or not. Sometimes I think this Jagdeo-Ramotar PPP is either fatalistic or it is deathly afraid of losing power and the accompanying benefits, while being duly worried about what a new government would uncover about the PPPs shenanigans since Cheddi Jagan died.