After months of stalemate and controversy, the Government of Guyana has finally agreed to the full implementation of the International Republican Institute (IRI) managed USAID Leadership Education and Democracy (LEAD) Project.
Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon, speaking during a joint press conference with the US Charge de Affairs Bryan Hunt, said that a mutually acceptable agreement has been reached, which puts to rest the concerns Government had over the initial design and implementation of the project.
He said Government was keen, from the outset, on ensuring that Guyana and Guyanese were not robbed of the opportunity to exploit the benefits that could be derived from the project.
Dr Luncheon advised that discussions have led to the development of a regime of measures that removed the ambiguity and uncertainty that loomed over the intentions of part of the project.
“I don’t believe, however, that we should close our eyes to the actual task of implementation in those specific areas that have been identified in the three components…. It is up to us, the main stakeholders, to ensure that we do obtain all that is in the plate,” he said, explaining further that Government will closely monitor the roll-out of the project.
Asked by Guyana Times whether Government was still “iffy” about the involvement of the IRI given its own track-record in other democracies, Dr Luncheon said Government had done all that it could have done to ensure that enough governance mechanisms were in place via the project’s content and implementation phases to avoid the surfacing of any negative concerns.
“A fairly well established process contributes enormously towards allaying fear from one side and concerns about the use of fear on the other side. We are in a situation where you might say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but we have a robust regime of governance mechanisms by which this project would be judged, evaluated and monitored,” he insisted.
Hunt dispelled the perception of many that the US had some hidden agenda behind implementing the project, which was marred by controversy since its announcement.
“The LEAD Project will be able to stand as a model of collaboration and innovative development assistance for democratic governance….The programme can now embark on its important work of facilitating conversations and undertaking activities that will hopefully yield to consensus and collaboration between all stakeholders that serve Guyana’s national interest.”
“It will provide tools, international expertise and opportunities to help facilitate conversations on activities of national interest,” he said.
Hunt went at length to explain to media operatives that the project would not engage or provide assistance to political parties and their representatives in any shape or form. “While we may engage with people that have roles in Guyana’s political parties, our intention is not to provide support or direct engagement under LEAD with political parties,” he said.
He denied that the US Government ever funded any activities of APNU under the LEAD Project, even though a senior member of the Opposition reportedly told a section of media that funding was received for some activities in Region One.
Hunt made it clear that the project was geared toward creating inclusive governance and allowing civil society stakeholders to shape and fashion the democratic structures and new brand of democracy for their country.
“While the discussions that led to this agreement have been lengthy and at times challenging, I can confirm that in the end both sides feel that the LEAD Programme’s designs and implementation mechanisms are now stronger and have benefited from the additional review and consultations that have been undertaken,” he said.
Hunt acknowledged the significance of Government’s input into the project which he believed was strengthened in the end, thereby making the Government “comfortable” with the project. This, he said, was always the intention of the US Government.
“I don’t think that any significant modifications were made to the broad areas of our collaborations. We did receive some quite useful information from the Government,” he remarked. LEAD Project Coordinator Glenn Bradbury would continue to pilot the project through the IRI.
Questioned on possible delays in completion and timelines following the period when the programme was shelved, Hunt said there would be none. “In terms of the actual contract with IRI, that was not altered. We will continue to work along the timeframe that was agreed upon with IRI at the time the contract was signed, which means we have a little less than a year remaining,” he said.
He noted, however, that the US/IRI may agree to extend the contract at some time in the near future if it becomes necessary. The National Assembly, Women and Gender Equality Commission, Culture Youth and Sports Ministry, and the Guyana Elections Commission will play key coordinating roles in the execution of the project.