…city’s residents impatient against slowness of changesThe United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is being urged to take advantage of the window of opportunity to support the reform process that is underway to strengthen Guyana’s governance, balance the power of the executive, while starting the devolution of power to local government and ensuring a more accountable and responsive government.This was outlined in a Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Assessment for Guyana report. The assessment was done by Tetra Tech ARD, a US-based consulting firm.The report outlined that the election of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), brought an opportunity to Guyana to make substantive reforms that could transform its political system and make it more effective, accountable and inclusive.It was noted that if adopted and implemented, these democratic reforms can address the over-centralisation of power, address politicised and non-performing institutions that were found during the assessment and increase governance effectiveness and responsiveness.However, this outcome is far from certain and while there are indications of significant change, there are also reasons for concern.“Time is of the essence as this window may not be open for long. The assessment team estimates it will close within the next 18 to 24 months as the focus shifts to the 2019 local elections and 2020 national elections. Some believe it will close even sooner if not supported, citing rising citizen anger and impatience against the slowness of the reforms and signs of business-as-usual,” the report stated.To this end, the assessment team recommends USAID focus on a two-tiered strategy. It explained that in the short-term, focus should be placed on the reform processes, key oversight mechanisms, information flow, and newly elected local authorities.Whilst, in the medium- to long-term, a Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) programme should be reinstated to make a more substantive contribution towards strengthening Guyana’s democratic institutions and system. However, it does not recommend political party assistance in the near-term as the parties are internally regrouping and intending to work out their own issues and are not open to assistance at this time.In this regard, the recommended DRG objective is a more accountable, responsive, and balanced governance in Guyana. One of the recommended programmatic priorities is Constitutional reform through support for the current reform process and the implementation of previous constitutional reforms.“These can help balance the power of the executive, address the winner-takes-all nature of the political and electoral systems, and devolve power to local government. Near-term priorities are reform content and consultations, constitutional referendum (if held), and constitutional commission appointments. Mid- to long-term priorities are the implementation of the new constitutional reforms and strengthening the Human Rights and Integrity Commissions that provide oversight and citizen protection,” the report outlined.Furthermore, the report recommended that USAID strengthen checks and balances through strengthening key institutions and increasing access to information and evidence-based decision making.This, it was noted, can help increase accountability; balance the dominance of the executive; address issues of cronyism, impunity, and corruption; and ensure the rule of law is applicable to all. The report stated that near-term priorities are assessments in the key areas of rule of law, electoral system, and economic governance and consideration for a small flexible fund to support quick-impact, low-cost changes within key institutions. Mid- to long-term priorities include parliamentary oversight and outreach, it added.Other recommendations made are to strengthen local governance through support for the devolution process; capacity building for local institutions; and increasing citizen engagement to ensure local government has the authority, resources, and capacity required to be responsive to its communities, serve their needs, and counter the top-down, overly centralised nature of government.“Near-term priorities are the Local Government Commission, newly elected local officials, and constituency engagement. Mid- to long-term priorities include supporting the training curricula for local officials, constituency engagement, and information on and monitoring of the 2019 local elections,” the report cited.On the other hand, the assessment team remarked that the main challenge to DRG in Guyana is its legacy of political parties organised along ethnic lines; of single party dominance; and its centralised patron-client list system that contributed to weak, unaccountable, unresponsive, and ineffective government institutions. The dysfunction in its political system has led to a feeling of hopelessness among many Guyanese, high levels of emigration, and insecurity.