Category Archives: Foreign Affairs / Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR)

Outgoing US Ambassador elated that democracy project approved

The US-backed democracy project that was halted last month is back on track after Government approved elements of it.
Speaking with reporters yesterday, outgoing US Ambassador D. Brent-Hardt said that the Guyana Government has issued a diplomatic note to the embassy which greenlights the project to restart.
In early May, Guyana and the US agreed to bring to a halt the Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) Project, being implemented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The LEAD problem has been a major disappointment for the outspoken diplomat who has also been pushing aggressively also for the early Local Government Elections and passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Bill.
According to the Ambassador, the LEAD project is a crucial one for Guyana, and an extension of the USAID work.
Admitting that he was surprised at the unexpected challenges that arose, the Ambassador made it clear that he is convinced that Guyana’s potential is still to be realized. The LEAD project is supposed to address some of the democracy and Parliamentary issues that hinder development.
Explaining, the official pointed to Guyana’s per capita figures which remained “fairly low” in the hemisphere, despite an abundance in resources.
With political issues among the biggest challenges in Guyana, the USAID programme was geared to address especially the areas of economic and social challenges.
The LEAD project itself would have been critical in helping to build consensus in Parliament. The 10th Parliament has been facing significant challenges as Guyana for the first time in decades as an independent country, has an Opposition-controlled House.
The LEAD project especially targets the youths and women in engagements, as part of the efforts to establish proper consultative mechanisms.
Weeks after halting the project, Government last month announced that it had withdrawn its non-approval and had started negotiating with the US on the project.
In early January, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon said that the decision by the US Government to proceed with a project that the Guyana Government had already rejected was disrespectful.
He had said that the four components of the project were analyzed by Cabinet and one contained major activities that captured a relationship between USAID and individual political parties in Guyana.
Guyana does not have a public policy by government for the support for political parties, he added.
The LEAD project seeks to enhance the technical capacity and functionality of the legislature through the regular use of consultative practices and mechanisms for legislative drafting, analysis, review, and passage.
On May 8, Ambassador Hardt met with Dr. Luncheon at the Office of the President where it was announced that the US Embassy had agreed to immediately put the contentious USAID-backed project on hold in order to facilitate talks with the Guyana Government with a view to coming up with a mutually agreed position.

Nevis seeks support from Guyana to set-up Haemodialysis Unit

Guyana’s health care service, particularly as it relates to the delivery of haemodialysis, is a model to be emulated.  At least this is the conviction of Minister of Health of Nevis, Mark Brantley.

The press conference in session yesterday. (From left) The Nevis team – Health Planner, Ms Shelisa Martin-Clarke; Director of Nursing, Ms Aldris Pemberton-Dias; Medical Chief of Staff, Dr John Essien and Minister of Health, Mark Brantley. The GPHC team –Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael Khan; Director of Medical and Professional Service, Dr Sheik Amir; Director of Nursing Service, Sister Audrey Cory and Assistant Director of Nursing Service, Sister Noshella Lalckecharran

Minister Brantley and a team of technical officers from his Health Ministry are currently here on a three-day visit designed to forge collaborative ties with the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) with a view of setting up a Haemodialysis Clinic in Nevis.
Haemodialysis is a procedure administered to renal failure patients to remove metabolic waste products or toxic substances from the bloodstream by dialysis.
Currently, at least, one Nevisian patient who suffers from renal failure is being dialysed at the GPHC. In fact, Minister Brantley said that the patient has been forced to relocate to Guyana for the past year in order to readily access the service.
This is in fact the situation that obtains for a number of similar cases, Minister Brantley said, that are known to attract cost factors, both financially and otherwise, whereby patients are required to be away from their families for extended periods.
Although the renal failure cases in Nevis are currently less than five, Minister Brantley said that “as a Government we have an obligation to our population to see as much as it is feasible to do, to have certain services available to them within the country so that they are not away from their families…”
And so it was against this background, he said, that a decision was made at the Nevis end to undertake what he described as a ‘study tour’ in order to “have the necessary conversations to see how we can further cement the relationship between Guyana and the island of Nevis in terms of health care.”
This has thus far translated to the Nevisian Health Minister, accompanied by his Medical Chief of Staff, Dr. John Essien; Director of Nursing, Ms Aldris Pemberton-Dias and Health Planner, Ms Shelisa Martin-Clarke touring the public hospital.
“We admire in particular the level of training you have here; the training possibilities that exist, and frankly what you have done here with limited resources is nothing short of remarkable based on what we have observed,” said Minister Brantley.
Moreover, he noted that “we feel that our people can benefit from some training and some technical assistance from Guyana and we feel that it is part and parcel of the closer collaboration that we see emerging throughout the Caribbean.”
“I would like to go on record thanking the Honourable Minister of Health here, .Dr. (Bheri) Ramsaran who met us yesterday (Wednesday) and gave us some of his time,” said Minister Brantley as he lauded the support that has been thus far forthcoming. He is optimistic that “this trip is the start of something very good and we can certainly find ways and means to cooperate.”
In fact Minister Brantley, who also has responsibility for a number of other Ministries, and functions in the capacity of Deputy Premier in his country, described the trip here as symbolic in many respects pointing out that the move can be classified as a good one not only for Nevis but also for Guyanese who have relatives there or may be residing there themselves.
Nevis, which is a part of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis located in the Leewards Islands, is a federal two-island territory in the West Indies that is home to a large number of Guyanese in a population of about 13,500.
“Even though it is the first time for all of us being here, we feel that we know Guyana already…We see street names and places that we recognise from our conversations over the years,” said Brantley as he disclosed that there are some Guyanese who have been residing in Nevis for well over two decades. This, according to him, has over the years allowed for Guyana to benefit economically.
The press conference was moderated by Chief Executive Officer of the GPHC, Mr Michael Khan, who was accompanied by the hospital’s Director of Medical and Professional Service, Dr. Sheik Amir; Director of Nursing Service, Sister Audrey Cory, and Assistant Director of Nursing Service, Sister Noshella Lalckecharran.
According to Khan, “we feel very positive that we can contribute towards helping them set-up their (Haemodialysis) Unit…If I am not mistaken they already have one unit but they need to get their infrastructure in place… to get going.”  But ahead of infrastructural support, Khan alluded to need for the facilitation of training, in the near future, for Nevisian nurses.
With the promised support, Dr. John Essien said that the Nevis Health Ministry will undoubtedly be poised to have its own Haemodialysis Unit in place to even cater to the portion of the population that suffers from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, both of which can lead to renal failure.
He disclosed that while renal failure can currently be treated through peritoneal dialysis, the need is there for haemodialysis for some of the more ill patients.
“We are hoping that this visit to Guyana will be the beginning of something very concrete on our side in terms of guaranteeing that this service will be maintained in the long run…” said Dr. Essien.

Guyana/US ink agreement on narcotics control, law enforcement

Guyana and the United States of America yesterday signed a Letter of Agreement (LOA) on Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement that would see the nation receiving US$850,000 (G$170M).

Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and US Ambassador Brent Hardt signing the agreement.

The LOA was signed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday by Substantive Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and US Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt and falls under the implementation of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
In welcoming the grant from the US, Minister Rodrigues-Birkett noted that while the CBSI programme is a regional one, there are bilateral aspects, as is demonstrated through the LOA.
She noted that crime and the trafficking of narcotics are problems that have to be confronted, but cannot be confronted by Guyana alone, hence the need for partnerships, such as the case with the US through the CBSI initiative.
The Minister acknowledged that there have been positive results emanating from the partnership and pointed to recent drug busts at the airport which she said were no doubt aided by the multiplicity of training as a result of the initiative.
Ambassador Hardt said that the agreement will build on that trust and goodwill to help strengthen Guyana’s counter-narcotics control capabilities, enhance law enforcement professionalization and support rule of law programmes.
According to the US envoy, the monies being provided under the agreement will help support and make fully operational the recently constructed forensics laboratory, help establish fully vetted counter-narcotics units, and further develop a police partnership programme.
“It includes enhanced training in police functions such as evidence gathering, interrogation methods, and case development.”
According to the Ambassador it will also focus on specialized investigations in the areas of human trafficking, gender-based violence, corruption, and money laundering.
The Ambassador noted too that funding will be dedicated to strengthening Guyana’s correction services, with a particular focus on the management and rehabilitation of juvenile detainees.
“Working together with Guyanese partners, our focus will be to share and implement international best practices designed to prevent gang recruitment in prison and to reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders.”
Speaking to the benefits of the programme over the past three years, the Ambassador singled out the provision of the three Metal Shark Aluminum Boats and state-of-the-art communications equipment to the Guyana Coast Guard. He also pointed to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which was handed over to Guyana last month, and the sharing of firearm information through the Regional Integrated Ballistics Information Network, that will allow law enforcement authorities to track the movement of weapons from country to country within the Caribbean.
He spoke too of the provision of firearm marking equipment through the OAS, which, together with the E-trace network, allows Guyanese law enforcement officials to share information and collaborate to reduce the threat of gun violence and crime, while helping solve outstanding cases among other tangible benefits to Guyana.
According to the Ambassador, the United States is committed to working closely with the Government and people of Guyana to combat illicit trafficking of counter-narcotics and illegal weapons, advance public security and safety, and promote social justice.
“We want the citizens of Guyana to see the benefits of improved security and social justice in a personal way: in their neighbourhoods, in their schools, along their rivers and shorelines, and in the marketplace. The only way to achieve this is for our countries to forge a reliable, long-term partnership to build capacities and enhance international collaboration to meet the threats.”

Wide-ranging issues on agenda at 17th COFCOR meeting

“The Caribbean is connected with the international world but is still to be connected with itself”- T&T Foreign Minister

By Abena Rockcliffe

Yesterday saw the opening ceremony of the 17th meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) at the Guyana International Conference Centre, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, assumed the Chairmanship of the body.
COFCOR consists of Ministers responsible for the Foreign Affairs of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States.
In his opening remarks, Caricom Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque told the gathering, predominantly made up of diplomats, that the annual meeting is the opportunity for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs to look back and take stock of the multiple activities undertaken by the Community in the promotion and protection of its interests.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett poses with Foreign Ministers and representatives after the opening ceremony

He said that it also provides the occasion to look forward to the prospects by analysing the trends, developments and events which shape the external environment in which Member States operate.
LaRocque pointed out that the review and analytical exercise takes on particular importance this year as the final touches are being put to the Five-Year Strategic Plan for the Caribbean Community.  That Plan, he noted, will lay out the Community’s priorities over the period as it seeks to focus on a few practical and achievable goals.
He said the meeting presents the opportunity for an in-depth discussion on “CARICOM Foreign Policy in the Changing Global Environment” in order to recommend foreign policy approaches and priorities.
Immediate former chair of COFCOR, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, Winston Dookeran, in his remarks, referred to last year when his country hosted the 16th meeting. The Foreign Minister said his country did its best but noted that already he noticed signs that Guyana surpassed all bests.
Dookeran said that last year’s meeting was centered on the fact that the ground was shifting and “we needed to pull up our socks.” He said however that this year’s agenda is bigger as the focus is moved from acknowledging the sand has shifted to building the pillars of foreign policy.
The Trinidad and Tobago representative pointed out that there is a big gap between the fiscal deficit and liquidity surplus that exists in the Region, and said that there is an urgent need to close that gap.
Perhaps one of the most impacting points that Dookeran made during his remarks is that “the Caribbean is connected with the international world, but is still to be connected with itself”. He said that that connection is absolutely needed as “We cannot afford to be left behind.”
Minister Rodrigues–Birkett, who was the final speaker, acknowledged the good work of her predecessor Minister Dookeran and said she hopes to maintain such standards during her tenure.
The Guyanese Minister said that the meeting is being held at a time when the Caribbean Community is undertaking an introspection of how the systems and processes of its integration movement can be strengthened.  Key to this development, she said, is a Strategic Plan which will address the areas to which the Community should give priority as it seeks to maximize its human and financial resources.
She pointed out that COFCOR had to be aware and ready to respond to changes on the international scene that would consequently require a repositioning of policies.  This has therefore been a central theme in several meetings.
But the Minister said that Guyana is now the venue where focus will be on the conduct of the Region’s foreign policy in a changing global environment.
“I am indeed looking forward to our own introspection, at the end of which I hope we will arrive at clear and practical actions that would reflect our adaptation in a rapidly changing world, and more importantly an approach that would lead to even greater coordination.”
In pointing out some of the priorities of COFCOR, Rodrigues-Birkett said the international community must be nimble so as to advance the climate change negotiating process to meet the 2015 deadline for a global agreement on climate change. She told the gathering that the Region continued to advocate that climate change represents the greatest challenge to the planet and moreso for this Region of small-island and low-lying coastal states where it is an existential issue.
“It is therefore in our interest to participate in the important upcoming meetings, including those convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change…For CARICOM, a key imperative is the building of resilience: resilience to climate change and environmental risk; and resilience to external economic shocks. CARICOM needs to remain fully engaged and to ensure that our priorities are duly reflected in the relevant outcomes.”
The COFCOR chairperson said that while many jurisdictions have recorded admirable performances with respect to some of the MDGs and continue striving to achieve sustained economic and social development, some Member States are constrained by high levels of debt and graduation from concessional financing and development aid. She said COFCOR will continue to advocate for the international financial institutions and the various world decision-making bodies to review arbitrary categorization of our small developing states as upper middle income countries using GDP per capita by adding certain vulnerability indices in order that a true picture of our economies is reflected.
Moving on to trade, Birkett pointed out that for most Member States and the region as a whole, the United States is still the largest trading partner in terms of value and volume of trade.   However, she said that it cannot be assumed that the current arrangements will remain sufficient and resilient.
“We have to engage and pursue initiatives to improve trade, including through the maximum use of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).”
In addressing the issue of “joint representation”, Birkett charged her colleagues that “If developed countries – with much more human and financial resources than we have – can pursue with each other shared space of diplomatic premises or, as in the case of the Pacific Alliance countries, establish measures in the area of consular assistance to benefit their nationals, then our small Community of nations must recognize the merit of adopting either these or similar options and of course we will be examining this in detail.”
She told her peers, “We must be prepared, to sacrifice short term individual gains in order for the overall region to benefit on the longer term.
In addition to Member states, the opening ceremony was attended by Ricardo Patino – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador and Murray McCully – Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand.