In our preoccupation with putting food on the table, avoiding robberies and paying bills, many Guyanese may have missed the fact that the ruling regime is shifting from one weak excuse to another, in the effort to deny citizens one of the biggest opportunities ever offered to them. Editor, I am referring to the $300 million, Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project, proposed by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
According to information made public by the US Embassy, the project is designed to strengthen democratic governance by providing technical assistance in citizen participation in government, the drafting of laws, making parliament more effective, increasing cooperation among political parties, educating the public about elections, among other admirable objectives. The project would also involve increasing the roles of women and young people in government, the engagement of civil society to better meet Guyana’s needs, development of the transportation sector, working to eliminate discrimination, reduction of Guyana’s debt burden and promotion of the holding of local government elections. There can be no doubt that this project is desperately desired in Guyana. It may therefore seem strange that the PPP/C administration objects to it. Further, the reasons given for the objections can be proven to be manufactured, misleading and frankly, dishonest.
When the LEAD project was launched on July 17, 2013, Guyanese were understandably optimistic. Local government elections, at last, would receive international support, a comprehensive, US sponsored programme would seek to educate the public on matters of interest, a wide cross-section of Guyanese would gain the opportunity of having a say in their country’s development. Therefore, when US Ambassador Hardt announced on July 24, 2013, that Guyana’s government had reservation about the project, many were disappointed and puzzled. In November 2013, Dr Roger Luncheon removed all doubt about the government’s position. He said that the PPP/C regime was pulling the plug on the project because the US Government did not consult with Guyana on the details of the project. We now know that this excuse was, to put it bluntly, untrue.
Following Dr Luncheon’s excuse, the US Embassy released documents that conclusively proved that the ruling PPP/C regime was involved, from day one, in planning the LEAD project. Even before the project was conceived, the US Ambassador, Mr Brent Hardt, wrote to President Ramotar, on October 18, 2012, informing him of the proposal and seeking his support. Later that same month, President Ramotar met with Ambassador Hardt and offered, “helpful support.” On May 20, 2012, Ambassador Hardt wrote to the President, informing him that the International Republican Institute (IRI) was awarded the contract to implement the LEAD project – the IRI is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation, working to promote democracy, fair elections, good governance and the rule of law. Therefore, it is clear, that the Government of Guyana was involved in formulating this project from the beginning and Dr Luncheon’s excuse for pulling out of the project was nothing but a fabricated concoction.
Now that the PPP/C administration’s excuse has been thoroughly discredited, the regime has come up with another fabrication to defend itself; officials now claim that they are afraid that the Americans are planning to give financial aid to the opposition. Of course, this new falsehood is equally without merit. After all, the PPP/C have been privy to all aspects of the programme, and they are certainly aware that no such provisions exist. Evidently, this new excuse is just another lie, intended to deny Guyanese a well-designed, well-funded and administered project which will benefit the majority of our citizens.
But the question is: why is the ruling regime afraid of the LEAD project; why don’t they want Guyanese to be educated about local government elections; why don’t they want women involved in decision-making; why don’t they want a functioning parliament and effective laws?
The answers should be obvious: a well-educated populace would not tolerate the autocratic practices of the PPP/C; an involved electorate would demand a say in their future and regular elections; a functioning parliament would offer a counterbalance to executive lawlessness; the people would stop being docile and compliant, and would instead, demand positive change and real democracy.
So where do we go from here? Well, this is my view. This regime has flouted numerous laws including the constitution and international conventions. They have usurped the rule of law in favour of discretionary rule. In short, they have redefined the structure of government by disregarding democratic norms. Therefore, the opposition, in reaction to the regime’s actions, need not abide by strictures and conventions which the ruling regime has abandoned. The opposition are now free to define their own modus operandi in the interest of restoring democratic governance. Since the combined opposition represents the will of the majority, it stands to reason that Guyana’s sovereignty rests with parliament. Following this line of reasoning, the combined opposition has every right to directly engage with agencies, including USAID, to support the implementation of programmes, including LEAD, which will benefit all Guyanese.
As a concerned citizen, with an interest in Guyana’s future, I urge my fellow Guyanese to support the LEAD project. I believe that this initiative will provide much needed assistance to our country and help us to escape the stagnant bog of oligarchic autocracy, into which this regime has driven our country.