New People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) presidential candidate Irfaan Ali yesterday said he does not see himself as anyone’s puppet or as an individual within his party but as part of a team to implement its programme on assuming the reins of government after the next elections.
“I see myself as a part of a team and not as an individual. I am part of a team, the People’s Progressive Party’s team, and that team will be widened. That team develops an agenda—a programme that I am committed to,” Ali, 38, told reporters yesterday in his first engagement with the press after his election.
Ali defeated fellow PPP member Anil Nandlall after securing the votes of 24 members of the party’s 35-member Central Com-mittee. Nandlall received the remaining 11 votes. Prior to the voting getting underway, the three other prospective candidates, Dr Frank Anthony, Dr Vindhya Persaud and Gail Teixeira, withdrew themselves from the contest.
Responding to questions yesterday afternoon at the entrance to the PPP headquarters, Freedom House, at Robb Street, George-town, Ali said he was “extremely humbled” by the confidence the leadership of the party had reposed in him by electing him as the presidential candidate. He added he was delighted to lead a party with a great history into the elections, while noting that he was committed “to the manifesto of the party which has, at its heart, the interest of the people and the reversal of all of the policies during the last three and a half years that affected the vulnerability of the people.”
Asked how he will assert his independence while being a part of a team and under the shadow of the party’s General Secretary, former president Bharrat Jagdeo, who many believe is pulling the strings behind the scenes, Ali said, “First of all I see myself as a team. I see the General Secretary of the PPP as a great asset to Guyana. I see him as a great asset to the party. I see him as someone who has served tremendously well and someone who has a lot to offer. I don’t know what you meant by pulling strings. If an organisation has a great asset, it is only in the best interest of that organisation and for the country to deploy that asset and use that asset for the country.”
On being overshadowed, he again emphasised that there is a team approach. “This is a team approach to government, not an Irfaan Ali approach. This is a PPP approach to implementing the manifesto of the PPP. At the end of the day, the people will judge us on how effectively we have implemented the manifesto,” he said.
Asked how he will assert his independence as the president, he said, “As president you are in charge of a team.” There will be challenges, he noted, but his independence will be asserted in ensuring that the team delivers on its manifesto and its promises.
He noted that he gained experience while working at the State Planning Secretariat, while heading the Caribbean Develop-ment Bank’s Project Implementation Unit, and as a Cabinet minister with responsibility for housing, water, tourism, industry and commerce for seven years, as well as more recently as the opposition spokesman on finance. “At the end of the day, it is delivery and meeting the expectations of the people,” he said.
He said he has also had experience in government in terms of policy formulation of massive projects and programmes, and to deal with the difficulties that lie ahead with the joblessness that exists, issue of rising debt, poor implementation of the public sector investment programme, the downturn in the economy, issues with investors’ confidence, and issues with aid mobilisation. “These are huge issues. I am not even mentioning oil and gas and all the other massive transformational projects that are needed to take Guyana forward,” he added.
‘Nothing for me to hide’
Addressing questions raised over his credibility due to recent challenges to his academic qualifications as well as a pending charges, Ali said, “I am very confident about who I am.” He noted that he issued a statement about his qualifications and released copies of his certificates. He was committed, he said, to releasing more and the transcripts of his academic performances from the universities and schools where he studied over the years.
“I have committed to release more of what I have requested. There is nothing for me to hide. Nowhere for me to hide.”
Just to show how things are manipulated to fuel propaganda and rumour mongering, he said, someone claimed that he had called one of the universities where he studied and was told that the programme he did, does not exist. “I have since written to the university and the university has written me confirming my qualifications,” he said, while adding that he will not reply to the rumours and will stick to his statement and as the facts come he will release them to the media.
Jagdeo, who was also present, added that the timing of Ali’s qualifications was supposedly meant to influence the outcome “but maybe it had a backlash.”
On the over a dozen corruption charges laid against him by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Ali said, “I don’t want to cross that bridge now. When we get to that bridge we will cross it. I think the PPP has experience in its leadership to deal with it.”
On that issue, Jagdeo said, “We will fight off any attempt to influence a conviction.”
Ali was charged last year over the allocation of house lots to Cabinet members and other persons in the Pradoville 2 Housing Scheme during his tenure as Housing Minister.
The basis of the charges is that the lands were sold far below their value. It is unclear if any action is contemplated against the recipients of the land, some of whom have moved to reach settlements with the state.
On his own qualification as a party activist, Ali noted that he has been in the party for more than 20 years and served in various capacities, including as a member of the Progressive Youth Organisation, the party’s youth arm. “This allowed me to view first-hand the many challenges that young people face, and the opportunities that exist out there for them to be part of the solution and governance of this country. The fact that the party has elected a young person shows that the party is committed to young people not only by talk but by action,” he added.
Following the vote, the PPP issued a statement in which it said the four other contenders congratulated Ali and pledged support to working towards a PPP/C victory.
On his competitors and other comrades expressing support and committing themselves to work towards a common agenda and as part of a team, Ali said, “This speaks to the fact that the party is united and strong and we are ready to confront the challenges that face us, ensuring that the PPP is returned to government for the service of all Guyanese.”
Jagdeo added, “All the other candidates would have prominent roles in government” and also that “Any PPP candidate would deliver the victory.”
Nandlall, meanwhile, expressed disappointment at his loss. He said, “You never enter a contest thinking you will not win. I thought that I would have won but the Central Committee of the party did not feel that way.” He said all the candidates have pledged their commitment to work together in government if the party wins.
Asked what he thought were his disadvantages that caused him to lose against Ali, he said, “Ask those who voted against me.”
Asked why she withdrew from the race, Dr Persaud said, “That was a decision made on many factors, which I would not comment on right now but there was a process.”
Asked if she was pressured into anything, she said, “Nobody pressured anybody into anything.”
Asked if she thinks that the large Hindu population, of which she is a leader, would support Ali, a Muslim, she said, she has never supported religious intolerance, and she has been in the forefront calling for respect and understanding of among all religions and she does not think that anyone’s religion should factor into this political process.
When Teixeira was asked why she withdrew from the process, she said, “One day when I write my memoirs I will write it down.”
When asked about the election, Dr Anthony, one of the first of the Central Committee members to leave the meeting, said the party will issue a press release.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo told the media that the process was followed in the election of the presidential candidate. The election was presided over by Guyana Elections Commissioner Robeson Benn.
Asked if he will take a back seat now that the presidential candidate was named, he said, he was the General Secretary of the party and his job was to grow it.
“How will we do that? I have set myself the task of greater inclusion in the party, changing the face of our party. More Afro Guyanese in our party at every levels because we are strongly represented by Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians,” he said, before adding that he would seek to galvanise the party to win the elections.