US, Guyana ink $4B democracy, growth pacts By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
May 28, 2004

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US Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen (right) handing over copies of the two agreements signed yesterday at the Finance Ministry to Minister of Finance, Saisnarine Kowlessar. (Photograph by Jules Gibson)

The United States will over the next five years inject huge sums into Guyana's developmental challenges and to this end signed grant agreements yesterday for US$20M ($4B) to boost governance, democracy and economic growth.

And over the coming weeks, two more agreements are to be signed which will provide US$5M in wheat under the US PL480 programme and US$21M to reduce the threat of HIV and AIDS.

Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar, US Ambassador Roland Bullen and USAID Director Dr Mike Sarhan signed the first two agreements yesterday on behalf of their respective governments at the Ministry of Finance boardroom. Com-menting on the democracy and governance programme for which US$1.75 million will be available this year, Sarhan explained that it was developed in full consultation with a broad array of political, business and civic leaders and is aimed at consolidating democratic governance in the country. This programme will be monitored by the meeting of benchmarks, which will determine whether funds are released.

Sarhan said the programme had three components and among the activities to be carried out under them to consolidate democracy would be the strengthening of Parliament in the performance of its oversight functions and strengthening transparency in government through support to such institutions as the yet-to-be-constituted Public Procurement Commission. The media will also benefit from an increased capacity to report accurately and fairly, as will the administration of justice particularly in the area of alternative dispute resolution, which was developed with the assistance of the Chief Justice to alleviate the backlog of civil cases now before the courts.

These activities, he said, are aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability in government institutions.

"With knowledge of government programmes citizens can better advocate their positions, offer their services and expertise, take advantage of government programmes and information, and serve as watchdogs or perform an oversight function. Transparency serves to bring to light discrepancies in government operations.

"Improved administration in the justice sector also serves transparency by restoring accountability and citizens' right to a speedy and fair trial."

Other activities planned to enhance "real citizen participation and inclusion in the democratic process", Sarhan said would include those aimed at instituting a civic awareness programme, strengthening civil society organisations and, pending the holding of local government elections, the revitalisation of local governments and strengthening of the government's ability to manage free and fair elections.

Sarhan observed that at present mechanisms are lacking for interested citizens to make meaningful contributions to the public good. He explained that democratic governance is partly predicated on the ability of formal institutions and informal practice to support the rights of citizens to participate in public policy-making. "Inclusion and participation are mutually reinforcing where there are mechanisms to hear the opinions and aspirations of citizens. And where incentives exist for the correct exercise of citizenship, the state and citizens build a productive governance relationship."

There are also plans for activities aimed at reducing the country's vulnerability to ethnic and political conflict and these would include working with the Ethnic Relations Commission and other organisations dedicated to promoting social harmony, tolerance and peace as well encouraging greater dialogue between the political parties.

He said that under this programme, assistance will be provided to the Attorney- General's Chambers to strengthen its ability to draft legislation.

In response to questions about ensuring greater citizen participation, Sarhan pointed out that accountability would be enhanced if the local government elections are constituency based so that there is a link between the elected official and his constituency.

With regard to the economic growth programme for which US$1 million will be available this year, Sarhan said the objective is to build on the work done by the Guyana Economic Opportunities programme and would include capacity building for key institutions such as the ministries of Foreign Trade, Agriculture, Fisheries, Crops and Livestock and the Guyana National Bureau of Standards.

He explained that the capacity-building programmes will seek to enable Guyana to participate more effectively in international trade negotiations and reap any benefits that may accrue from such negotiations.

Under this programme too, Sarhan explained that target firms in the non-traditional sector will have enhanced ability to utilise modern methods of management in their day-to-day operations, and identify and exploit niche markets. He explained that one of the first activities to be carried out would be the completion, in collaboration with Go-Invest, of an Investment Guide, to accompany the recently enacted Investment Act.

He said that at the end of the programme, "all other things being equal, a proper trade negotiations infrastructure will be in place" and additionally, "target firms including ecotourism ventures that have received assistance, will have created new links to niche markets, and increased their exports to such markets."

Ambassador Bullen in his remarks and in answer to questions posed to him after the ceremony reiterated that democracy has developed through a long process of philosophical reflection, debate, discussion and trial and error.

It is his view that democracy in Guyana has improved but "we think that there are improvements to be made."

He noted that the twin processes of globalisation and liberalisation which have led to the dismantling of trade and other barriers will result in Guyana's exporters being exposed to greater levels of competition. "Contrary to popular opinion, local exporters will not simply just disappear in the face of such competition, but will be required to adapt to more innovative ways of doing business," hence the economic growth agreement.

Kowlessar welcomed the assistance being provided under the two agreements signed yesterday and said he looked forward to clinching the HIV/AIDS and PL480 agreements in the coming weeks.