Newly-anointed PPP presidential candidate Irfaan Ali returned to his hometown yesterday, vowing not to disappoint and with grand pledges that “from year one” of his administration, over $100 billion would be invested in Guyana and 50,000 new jobs created.
“In the next PPP/C government, we will be creating more than 50,000 new jobs all across this country. We will be creating, through the use of ICT, an education platform so that people could have education via distance learning. We are going to see all through e-governance, e-education, e-health…using the electronic means to achieve growth in our country…,” Ali told attendees last evening at a meeting in his hometown, Leonora, West Coast Demerara.
“What will take our country forward, is a social and economic programme that would bring benefits to all the people; every single section of this country…be assured that the first act of the PPP/C government will be to reverse all those bad policies that took away benefits, that took away social goods, that took away economic wellbeing and that took away disposable income from our people,” he added.
The crowd of over 300 lively but well-behaved supporters, most of whom were clad in red, alternately cheered and listened intently as the speakers which included PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, spoke to the gathering on the Leonora public road. “You think we gon get back the $10,000?” one woman asked a Stabroek News reporter in apparent reference to a programme that saw that sum being granted to support parents with children in school.
Ali was quick to point out that the meeting was not the PPP’s campaign launch but a way of him saying thank you to supporters in his village, who have over the years, worked hard with him and supported his quest for the position in the party.
Only a few members of the PPP’s Central Committee were present. Gail Teixeira and Kwame McCoy were at the front, with the former briefly addressing the crowd and pledging her support for Ali.
With a promise that if elected, they will never have to call him “lazy”, Ali vowed that he will make his hometown proud as, according to him, he plans to work fervently to create and implement policies, both fiscal and social, that would see Guyana benefiting significantly, moreso with wealth from its emerging oil and gas sector.
“I assure you that I will not disappoint you. I assure you that I will not be lazy. I assure you that I will be out there. I assure you that I will not buckle under any circumstances. I assure you that I will not succumb to any threat under any circumstances that will come our way. I will stand with this party and I will stand with all of our supporters and all of Guyana against any threat that comes our way,” said Ali, who is facing charges 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. His academic credentials have also come under scrutiny.
Ali listed plans he has for the country should he be elected President. “We will see more than US$500 million ($100 billion) invested in Guyana from year one, under the next PPP/C government. We did this before, without oil and gas and we will do it even better in the next government and (on) a much larger scale with the development of oil and gas. We are talking about the development of farms, huge farms, and the giving of incentives to rice farmers so that they can expand their production, increase yield and our production in terms of tonnage can be increased so that we have more rice that can be exported on the world market. And our cost of production will come down. These are the types of programmes that would break us through into the future and create the wave of economic wealth and well-being of all of our people in this country,” he said.
He promised to put measures in place that would train youths to have an active part in the sector such as the setting up of training schools to cater for such as revenue from “oil and gas gives us the platform to develop important sectors.”
“We are going to launch not only training programmes in the medical field, but we are going to find the brightest…so that we will develop those skill sets to take the country forward,” he added.
In a direct appeal to sugar workers of Region Three, which has two sugar estates; Wales and Uitvlugt – the former which was one of the first shuttered by the APNU+AFC government in 2016 – Ali promised to undo the decisions made. He said that not only will all three shuttered estates be reopened, but his government will give workers benefits lost as a result. “We will correct the wrong and make right the injustices to the sugar workers all across Guyana. We are going to restore benefits to you. This is a promise to you,” he said to loud applause.
Ali scoffed at criticisms regarding Jagdeo being a prominent figure in a government he leads, saying that he believes that the former president is one of the party’s greatest assets.
“We are lucky to have a great asset in this party…that asset is our General Secretary comrade Bharrat Jagdeo. As the presidential candidate, I will be foolish to have the greatest asset and not use it,” he said.
When Jagdeo took to the stage, he reciprocated and rained praises on Ali, who he said was his choice all along.
“In this period, I work to make Irfaan Ali a more successful president, so what’s wrong with that? He is my friend and he is a member of the party, a longstanding and a valuable member of the party. All my skills, every single bit of it will be at his disposal for Guyana and for the future of all of our people and I don’t have any apology to make for that, no apology whatsoever,” he said.
Jagdeo said that unlike what is believed by many, Ali has dedicated his life to the party and has served well in leadership roles.
“I know Irfaan Ali is trustworthy. I did not say anything before because we were in the contest. But now the people has selected a candidate, I can tell you the attributes of Irfaan Ali,” he said.
“You need a presidential candidate that can deliver to people, that can deliver better education, health care, housing etcetera. In his housing, we have had the largest growth in the Caribbean [under him]. He has the skills to do that. You see the evidence when you drive around the country. He has the experience that you need as a president; that cannot just talk about it. You need a president that when the glamour has faded, will sit all night and work to make that happen,” he added.
According to him, the 38-year-old Ali has experience many his age in the APNU+AFC do not have half of.
‘Represents the face’
And as he zoomed in on Ali’s age, Jagdeo said that supporters must understand that the majority of voters are in the 18 to 38 years old demographic and Ali represents the face that they want to see as a presidential candidate.
He waded into government, saying that they betrayed youth as they used them going into the 2015 elections, where they undertook most of the campaign groundwork, but then turned their backs on them and had senior citizens take all the parliamentary and senior public service positions.
“They talk about young people and their exclusion. Young people are the majority of the voters…In 2015, APNU rode into office on the backs of the young people…since they got into office, you will see that (young people are) just a tiny make up. They talk the talk about young people but they will never include them,” he charged.
“Irfaan Ali is a young man that can connect with young people. He can empathise with the young people. The old people, they lecture people. Look at what (President David) Granger and those are saying,” he added.
And as he called on supporters to ensure a landslide victory at the next polls, Jagdeo told them it would not be possible if they all do not chip in. As such, he said that they should not be distracted by negative social media comments on the party’s dynamics, or him or Ali.
He reminded that the “clock is ticking” as according to the Constitution, given the December 21st passage of a no-confidence motion against the APNU+AFC government, elections are due by March 19th, 2019 and it would be illegal for government to continue holding on to power after then. As such, they should be preparing for elections soonest and start lobbying other supporters immediately.
“They are saying all these things on social media…If any other candidate had been selected, they would say they were corrupt. That is what they said about me all my life…three and half years, nearly four years and they can’t prove a single thing about any of this…If you bring Jesus Christ or Lord Rama, I don’t want to say the holy prophet, but they would say they are all bad,” Jagdeo argued.
“We have one chance and we have to use that chance well in the future. We expect the party to go into that mode,” he said.
The PPP will today begin the formal crafting of its elections manifesto.