Speaker urges talks on rejected US democracy project

Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman hopes to bridge disagreements between government and the United States over the American-financed $300 million Leadership and Democra-cy Project (LEAD) from which Parliament was expected to benefit.

“The project is too valuable to Guyana for it  be scuttled or scrapped…I would like to speak to the US Ambassador and government to see if anything can be done to address the concerns… My view is that there are valid concerns by both parties but we can’t lose this project…,” Trotman told Stabroek News in an interview.

Government has stated that it would not entertain a request by the US government for talks on theproject which is going ahead despite Guyana’s objections. The US has informed government that it is standing by its position that the democracy project here would go ahead.

Raphael Trotman

Raphael Trotman

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon last week pointed out that even though the administration remains adamant that the project be pulled, it is open to re-negotiation on aspects of it and he pledged his willingness to re-craft it for the funding agency, USAID if needed. “We need to have a discussion. The administration feels it is not an insurmountable matter and we must find ways to address the issue but we will not hold discussions while the project is ongoing,” he had said.

Trotman believes that dialogue between the two nations can solve the qualms and the project can move ahead with the consensus of all parties. “I believe the project is salvageable. As a stakeholder being Speaker of the National Assembly, there is a component that impacts on the parliament so I would really like to see less of the disagreements displayed publicly and attempts made to identify what are the core disagreements and the narrow aspects bridged,” he said.

The House Speaker stated that while he believes that both sides have valid reasons to support their stance, there seems to be more nitpicking on the government’s side. “There seems to be more disagreement over form than substance….I haven’t heard any objection to substance…of course the government is always wary of foreign intervention but a lot hinges on good Guyana-US relations,” he said.

Questioned on government’s concern of sovereignty he said: “I think there is validity on both sides. I think government should be aware there is an accepted protocol that is observed by international agencies and state and non-state activities… there are protocols so I am not saying I am supporting that, if it is that.”

“At the same time it would be a tragedy to development if everything you had to get, you had to go to government for…I think the sensitivity of this one is because it goes under the rubric of governance.

The protocol is that you inform the government of basically the parameters ….but one does not expect that the minutiae would have to be approved …I see no complaints when the U.S. launch entrepreneurship and other programmes here… from what I am hearing is that the US government is not saying that they don’t respect the sovereignty, they are saying they do and they did consult with government and Dr. Luncheon and government saying they did not,” he added.

Trotman said that the principle of keeping protocols remains sound but before he can give a concretized position he would first have to meet both parties to ascertain which claims were true. “The argument really whether or not  it interferes, I would have to meet with Luncheon personally…the principle remains sound, the question is whether or not it is respected and observed on this occasion,” he said.

The Speaker said that parliament was one stakeholder which was consulted “extensively” by the project designers, the International Republican Institute (IRI) on what could be done to better that body. They have received correspondence from IRI that their requests were noted and some recommendations implemented into the LEAD programme.

It is for this reason that Trotman stressed that he would like to see the programme implemented. “Speaking selfishly I would like to see the parliamentary aspect proceeded with…the parliament has been written to during the project’s consultative stage. After extensive consultation between the parliamentary management committee, recommendations were made with emphasis on four areas aimed at development for the National Assembly…we received a proposal which the management committee of parliament will consider,” he noted.

While the speaker would not go into details of the proposal, Stabroek News understands that it caters for the establishment of an all-party Women’s MP Parliamentary Caucus, the provision of legislative research, policy analysis, and legislative drafting trainings, workshops, and expert seminars and the creation of a Parliamentary Internship Programme in concert with the University of Guyana and the Office of The Speaker. There is also assistance for the formation of Intra-Parliamen-tary Associa-tions.

Trotman said that he hopes that all political parties see the value of the proposal for parliament’s development as this was essential to its success.