OPINION: President Ali and his team have begun putting Guyana back on track

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The Following is an opinion piece by Dr Leslie Ramsammy, a former Minister under the PPP/C Government 

Just three days after he was sworn in as the 9th President of Guyana, President Irfaan Ali and the PPP have sworn in their full Cabinet, and have begun the difficult task of healing Guyana and putting Guyana back on the right track.

In the first real test for the young, dynamic President, he has proven he is the right person to be leading Guyana at this time. With the experienced, time-tested and crisis-tested Bharrat Jagdeo at his side, His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali has so far, just three days into his presidency, proven that when the Guyanese people overwhelmingly voted for the PPP, they made the correct choice.

President Irfaan Ali’s Cabinet is youthful, multi-racial, gender-balanced. There are no token appointments, no person appointed as cosmetic frills just for image purpose. It is a Cabinet that is highly qualified, with virtually everyone qualified as a professional. The Cabinet not only reflects the make-up of Guyana, but it has representatives from all the geographical areas of Guyana.

There are 19 ministers in this new cabinet, almost 33% less than what the Granger-led APNU+AFC Government had, which had 29 ministers. The cabinet includes 14 new faces. Two-thirds are under 50 years old. The average age of this new cabinet is less than 45 years, compared to the geriatric cabinet it replaces.

Five years ago, during the 2015 election campaign, David Granger and APNU+AFC promised that, if elected, their government would be one that gives youths a chance to shine, to play a meaningful role in Guyana’s developmental agenda. For five years, young people were relegated to the bottom of the ladder, told to await their time. Their time never came, and it is one of the reasons Granger and APNU+AFC were voted out.

Now, in 2020, Dr. Irfaan Ali has delivered on his promise to allow young people to play a meaningful role in Guyana’s development. In fact, in Charles Ramson, one of the many youthful leaders of the PPP, the new government will have a highly qualified professional providing leadership for the development of culture, youth and sports. It is not just his youth and his professional training, it is also his love for, and his own experience in, sports that make this appointment one that all the people of Guyana should celebrate.

There are other youthful members of the cabinet, such as Dr. Vindhya Persaud, Ms. Susan Rodrigues, Ms Sonia Parag, Deodat Indar, Collin Croal, Nigel Dharamlall, Hugh Todd, Vickram Bharrat; all newcomers, but also all youthful professionals, all with distinguished careers already. Even among those who have served as Ministers before, there are still the youthful and experienced, including Priya Manikchand, Anil Nandlall, Frank Anthony. Veterans like Robeson Benn, Gail Teixeira, Pauline Sukhai and Juan Edghill will join Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali to propel Guyana forward in a period that promises to see the greatest growth spurt for our country.

Anil Nandlall has shown he is capable, and is now going to establish himself as Caricom’s most accomplished Attorney General. Frank Anthony has been a cabinet member for many years, but has always been earmarked for the Ministry of Health. Priya Manikchand demonstrated her suitability for the education sector, which she led so ably in the last PPP Government. This will be an opportunity to push education forward in a way never before seen in our country. Juan Edghill was an excellent shadow minister for Infrastructure, and with his experience as the Minister in the Ministry of Finance in a previous PPP Government, will bring the kind of leadership this sector desperately needs.

Bharat Jagdeo’s experience will provide great support for the new ministers, including the new Prime Minister. Jagdeo’s acumen in finance and his economic strength will provide the guidance for this young cabinet. Importantly, the Oil and Gas sector needs leadership, and I expect Bharrat Jagdeo to play a critical role in this regard.

Guyana was shortchanged with the deal the previous Government made with EXXON and other oil companies. The new Government must try to get concessions from EXXON and others to make the deal more palatable for Guyanese.

Critically, the new Agriculture Minister must work with Cabinet to restore sugar. There must be immediate moves to reopen sugar estates. This is a promise that must be kept at all cost, not because of political reasons, but because Guyana’s economy needs a vibrant sugar industry.

The rice industry has kept Guyana’s economy afloat the last five years, but this does not mean that rice farmers had it easy. The rice farmers were basically left adrift by the Granger-led Government. This new Government must recognise the contribution of the rice industry and recognise that this industry can play an even bigger role in the new Guyanese economy.

The fishing industry became orphaned by the last Government. It is time that due recognition is given to the fishing industry.

The Minister of Health has a huge challenge. COVID-19 is a dangerous epidemic in Guyana. The new Minister must immediately begin to implement an aggressive programme to control and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At the same time, the hospitals are in a mess, and the supply chain has disintegrated. These are challenges the new Minister will have to manage immediately.

It is only three days since the new Government took over, but, already the Guyanese people are excited about the possibilities. President Irfaan Ali has made moves that generate confidence and excitement among the Guyanese people. The cabinet is one of the youngest cabinets ever, and also one of the most qualified ever. It is a powerhouse cabinet. This is what the Guyanese people voted for.

If we all work together, our future is secure. Together we are stronger.