Legal drafting among scope of activities on offer under snubbed democracy project

The US democracy project snubbed by government covers a wide scope of activities from boosting citizens’ engagement with local parliamentarians and education on recently-passed local government reform legislation to assistance for parliamentarians in legislative research and drafting of laws.

The Donald Ramotar administration has rejected the project claiming that it had no input but last week, US Ambassador Brent Hardt, in an exclusive interview with Stabroek News, said that government’s claim was “completely false” and the US embassy released a series of correspondence showing that from the start the administration was actively engaged on the project. The embassy also announced that the $300 million Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project will continue with or without government’s participation.

It has been pointed out that the 2009 bilateral assistance agreement between Georgetown and Washington covers the type of activities proposed through the LEAD programme.

The USAID-funded project is being implemented by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and emphasizes consultations with all stakeholders. “Through the course of the grant, the IRI will engage in regular consultations with government officials, party leaders, legislative staff, civil society organizations, and elections officials to advance this program,” the project document says.

The project, which seeks to support Guyanese stakeholder efforts to promote effective and responsive democratic institutions in Guyana, will strengthen political and consensus-building processes and skills through four programme components. These are: Strengthen political stakeholders to engage in consensus-building in the National Assembly and more effectively interact with citizens to address key issues; Strengthen the National Assembly and boost citizen engagement; Motivate and better equip Guyanese youth to constructively engage in political and civic processes; and Civic and voter education on the implementation of local government reform and local elections.

It is envisioned that IRI will work closely with other diplomatic and international donors present in Guyana, including the United Nations Develop-ment Programme (UNDP).

Under Component One, the LEAD programme will offer (non-material/non-financial) technical assistance to all democratic political parties and coalitions in Guyana in a non-partisan, inclusive manner. Activities include bi-monthly cross-party workshops on political negotiation, featuring experts in the field. These workshops will be offered to all parties in one setting. “The program will be conducted in this multi-party format to foster interaction between the parties outside of the formal parliamentary setting, encouraging them to take part in mock negotiation sessions with their counterparts. These sessions have proven to be successful in other countries, and this model can be adapted to the environment in Guyana,” the project document says.

In addition ‘Speaker Evenings’ are envisioned. “Practiced in other countries, IRI uses the ‘Speaker Evenings’ series to allow for political stakeholders to socialize and encourage friendly, low-profile discussion away from political matters, and foster more collegial relationship-building,” the document says.

It also noted that to address citizen demands, political parties need to develop more effective methods of collaboration. “The LEAD Program will convene both consultative sessions with party groups and organize formal monthly or bi-monthly workshops with members and committees to develop members’ ability to debate, deliberate and negotiate legislative initiatives,” the project document says. It emphasized inclusive participation and an agenda that meets with the approval of key stakeholders. “The LEAD Program will seek input from all parties on what they believe are relevant topics that will assist in efforts to build consensus in the National Assembly,” the document says.

Another area that is expected to be covered is issue-based policy development. “In order to improve the parties’ engagement in Parliament, the program will host workshops to review techniques in researching and analyzing constituent concerns and developing policies to address those concerns,” the document says. It pointed out that through these workshops, the program will share tools for addressing constituent concerns. “The program will also organize multi-stakeholder discussion groups for engagement with citizens, civil society, the private sector, among others, to provide input for developing legislative priorities,” the document says, while adding that support will be provided for the development of policy proposals, mostly through the creation of policy-making working groups that will be used to inform legislative agendas and initiatives.

It is also envisioned that IRI will also offer non-material assistance to strengthen the research capabilities. “Through all of these efforts, IRI will help parties build capacity to offer solutions and as a result, improve the effectiveness of the National Assembly,” the document says.

In the area of citizen engagement, it noted that citizens in general are not often aware of who their elected representatives are at the national level. “The LEAD Program will facilitate opportunities for political stakeholders to meaningfully engage with citizens within the confines of the current electoral laws,” the document says. Among the proposed activities are town hall meetings and multi-party issue forums where parties nominate a representative to present the party’s position on an issue or policy and allow for public questions and comments.

“These dialogues may be done in the form of public forums and if possible be broadcast online, and/or radio or television. These will be carefully moderated to ensure even playing fields for all participating party representatives and will employ methods to mitigate the possibility of non-constructive interactions between party representatives during the dialogues,” the document says.

The Program also envisions helping parties play a role in providing civic education to build citizen understanding of their roles and responsibilities and what their expectations should be of political parties and elected officials in regard to direct interaction with constituents.

Under Component Two, the LEAD Program will seek to strengthen both the institution of the National Assembly and the capacity of individual Members of Parliament and staff to enhance effective legislative functions in Guyana. “A legislative expert will be hired and be seconded to the National Assembly for a minimum of four to six months to provide intensive consultative advice and training to Members of Parliament and National Assembly staff,” the project document says.

It noted that other technical experts/consultants from the region and further afield with similar processes and political conditions will also provide more specialized technical expertise throughout the program. Program activities will range from regular and intensive consultative sessions to formal workshops and training on a broad range of topics to strengthen the National Assembly.

In terms of legislative research and drafting, which has long been called for by opposition parliamentarians, the LEAD Program will seek 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 introduced by Members or the executive branch.

“With the limits on the time Members of Parliament can devote to specific issues and with no individual staff, Members are significantly hampered in their ability to effectively analyze pressing issues facing the country, understand constituent concerns, and research solutions that can shape legislative agendas,” the project document notes.

Among other things, the Program will work with parliamentarians and committees to enhance technical understanding of National Assembly rules and processes to effectively introduce and amend bills and legislation. “Building on an enhanced understanding of the components necessary to develop viable, issue-based legislation, international experts will support legislators as they research, draft and propose legislation in order to strengthen the overall ability of the National Assembly to develop constructive, relevant and issue-based legislative initiatives,” the document notes. It also seeks to increase transparency in the legislative process by actions such as updating the Parliamentary website with current proposed legislation and schedules of committee hearings to facilitate the participation of experts, civil society and interested citizens.

The program will also organize roundtables which will include party members from all political parties to facilitate members in finding common ground and identifying areas of consensus among the disparate factions. It also envisions providing support for setting up a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus to provide a forum for the discussion of women’s issues in Guyana and to bring forward those issues to the Assembly.

In terms of increasing citizen engagement, USAID noted that most voters have little knowledge of the inner-workings of their National Assembly and said that the LEAD Program will coordinate closely with the UNDP to work with National Assembly staff to maximize the effectiveness of its existing website and introduce or support other technology and/or media to disseminate information to the public about the workings of the National Assembly. “This could include creating a program that can broadcast via the Internet, television or radio that covers committee hearings, legislative debates, and general parliamentary proceedings,” the document says. It emphasizes that stakeholders feedback will be sought to provide input into the development and sustainability of these initiatives.

In terms of oversight mechanisms, the document stated that the National Assembly may benefit from constructive suggestions for how to fulfill its constitutional role of providing oversight of the executive branch more efficiently and effectively. “The LEAD Program will work with all Members and staff of the National Assembly and committees to provide examples and tools for how to more effectively engage in parliamentary oversight,” the project document states.

Under Component Three, the LEAD Program will implement a series of program activities aimed at increasing youth interest in politics and civic affairs, while also building leadership skills among youth. “The Program will work with youth groups and civil society organizations to conduct civic education campaigns and events to generate broader interest among the youth in politics and government and in engaging in fruitful civic and community Programs. Public-private partnerships will be fostered to increase the probability of sustainability and marketing opportunities for youth, not only in government and civil society, but also in the private sector,” the project document states.

Among the activities envisioned are youth debate clubs and youth civic education festivals. “The LEAD Program will partner with a local civil society organization to organize at least three Youth Civic Education Festivals to educate youth on involvement with democratic institutions in their communities through such activities as public debates, community activism, and volunteering in their communities,” the project document says.

Under Component Four, it is envisioned that the LEAD Program will work in partnership with stakeholders to enhance citizen education in regard to recently approved local government reform legislation, the role of local government, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens and elected officials.

“The Program will also conduct voter education initiatives to educate citizens and poll workers on the electoral process,” the project document says.

Among the activities envisioned are civic education on Local Government: i.e. working with stakeholders to develop materials and information on the new local government structures and disseminating this information through media, etc.; supporting voter education awareness through development of signs, posters, etc. for display in paper, at events, through media, etc.; including encouraging voter registration, and supporting public outreach for GECOM; and providing training and non-material assistance to election officials on the election process and training of potential election observers.

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