Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Civil Society Charged to Hold APNU-AFC Government Accountable to Manifesto Promises

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) officially opened its three-day Civil Society Public Policy Training for the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project, funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, on Wednesday, September 16, 2015.  The project was designed to contribute towards the equitable treatment of all peoples in Guyana by supporting efforts to strengthen the participation of vulnerable persons and their representative organisations in decision-making processes of the state. The three-day training, held at the Regency Suites/Hotel, Hadfield Street, Georgetown, marks the second phase of the three phase project.
The official opening was chaired by the Secretary of SASOD’s Board, Alana Da Silva, and was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of United Nations agencies, other special invitees, in addition to the civil society participants.
John Quelch, Project Coordinator, presented an overview of the project by highlighting the objectives and the intended outcomes of the training. Quelch stated that, “the training programme we are opening today marks a substantial part of the training phase,  and is intended to bring together a wide cross-section of civil society stakeholders from the length and breadth of Guyana and to provide them with a thorough and focused introduction to and appreciation of the principles and practices of effective public-policy advocacy and to prepare them for successful involvement in Guyanese public-policy consultations and decision-making which affect their lives and the communities they represent.” 

The three-day training is part of a process that would better inform the APNU-AFC Coalition Government on how to address the issues affecting vulnerable groups. It also intends to charge civil society to take pro-active measures to have these issues addressed in keeping with the APNU-AFC’s promise in its 2015 elections manifesto which states: "We commit to putting in place measures which will ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including women, children, persons with disabilities, rural and Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and the sick and pregnant and those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against."
Head Table (From left to right): SASOD’s Board Secretary, Alana Da Silva; Head of Bilateral Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, Benedikt Madl; Commonwealth Consultant, Gordon Floyd; and SASOD’s Project Coordinator, John Quelch.
The Hon Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman was programmed to deliver brief remarks at the opening ceremony. However, he was unable to attend but he did send his prepared remarks which were read by SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson. In his remarks, Minister Trotman, underscored the work and importance of civil society organisations. He noted that “an active, vibrant, well-informed populace is critical to ensuring that its interests are addressed by its leaders and civil society’s advocacy is the vehicle through which this goal can be achieved.  Advocacy should not be seen however as an excuse for the trampling of the rights of others in an effort to achieve group goals but rather must be exercised with the intention of building relationships and strengthening democracy.  Civil society organisations that actively work with the most vulnerable are best positioned to inform and guide the process towards the creation of public policies that are inclusive and effective.” Minister Trotman reiterated the Government’s commitment to partnering with civil society to address issues affecting marginalised groups. He emphasised that the Government of Guyana is one for all peoples in this land and embraces active, respectful engagements with representatives of civil society in the creation of policies and in their implementation. “The right to access to information and participation in the formulation of policies and programmes is enshrined in a number of our critical laws including the Access to Information Act and are being upheld by this new administration,” noted Minister Trotman.
In closing, he encouraged civil society participants at the training to continue to work for a better Guyana. He accentuated that, “the development of Guyana depends largely on the ability of its diverse groups to collaborate and make decisions that move the country forward.  As such, I call on each of you participating in this capacity building exercise to envision over the next three days how you can positively influence and impact the creation of a better Guyana, a more informed and cohesive Guyana.”
The closing address was delivered by Mr. Benedikt Madl, Head of Bilateral Cooperation, Delegation to the European Union to Guyana, who urged civil society organisations to remain steadfast in advocating for their issues to be addressed. He highlighted, “the role of your organisations in voicing the concerns of society's disadvantaged cannot be underscored enough. You are usually the first in responding to victims of gender-based violence, child molestation and abuse, denied basic human rights to the LGBT community while at the same time advocating for policy change. You therefore are that vital bridge between the policy-makers and the general populace. Augmenting your advocacy capacities will therefore certainly allow you to achieve your goal of proper representation of the communities and fora you represent. This is the most opportune time to ensure effective and efficient advocacy.  As the new Government plans and charts its course for the next five years, your approach in advocating for the change that you want to see for the communities that you serve is crucial.” One of the main tenets on which the European Union's work is pillared is the defence of human rights. He concluded by lauding the work of the GEF. “I am happy to see that your advocacy efforts are being undertaken under the umbrella of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) and I want to commend the synergies that you are creating.  Collaborative work always lends greater strength to advocacy efforts,” he said.
Civil Society participants
SASOD’s Advocacy and Communication’s Officer, Schemel Patrick delivered the vote of thanks expressing gratitude to the European Union in Guyana for their continuous support towards the advancement of human rights through strengthening civil society in Guyana and for funding the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project. She also thanked the civil society partners in the GEF for committing to participating in this process and the public policy advocacy process. 
The three-day training was facilitated by the project’s three consultants drawn from the Commonwealth, Gordon Floyd; Caribbean, Deborah Nurse; and Guyana, Kesaundra Alves.

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