The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) presidential candidate Irfaan Ali, hours after he was elected by a wide margin against prominent Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall, touted his youthfulness and experience in the finance sector as major advantages going into the next general elections.
“The very fact that our party leadership has elected a young person shows that our party is committed to young people, not only by talk but by action,” said Ali, 38, a former Finance Ministry project official.
Ali beat Nandlall 24-11 after Gail Teixeira, Vindhya Persaud and Frank Anthony pulled out of the race shortly before balloting that was overseen by Returning Officer, Robeson Benn.
Ali said he was “extremely humbled” by being elected as the presidential candidate and he would be taking up the challenge “very seriously” to deliver key and essential services to all Guyanese. His priorities are fast-tracking the Public Sector Investment Programme, curbing rising debt, increasing job opportunities, and developing transformative projects through the oil and gas sector. “The experience I have had in government allows me the opportunity to work alongside my team, the broader PPP team, in moving Guyana forward for the betterment and improvement of the lives of all,” said the former Minister of Housing, Water, Tourism, Industry and Commerce.
Ali shrugged off concerns that he would be overshadowed by PPP General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo, instead saying that the former Guyanese leader is an “asset” and he would be facing the polls under the umbrella of teamwork that would develop a manifesto. “I see myself as being part of a team and I see the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party 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 and I don’t know what you meant by pulling strings,” he said. Ali added that his ministerial performance at the Ministry of Housing and Water “would tell you about my independence.”
“This is a team approach. This is not an Irfaan Ali approach. This is a team approach to government. This is a PPP approach implementing the policies and programmes and manifesto of the PPP. At the end of the day, the people will judge us based on our ability and how effectively we implement our manifesto,” said Ali who is currently the opposition’s Shadow Finance Minister and Chairman of the bipartisan Public Accounts Committee.
Asked whether he thought his credibility would be affected by questions being raised about the authenticity of his academic qualifications and alleged fraudulent sale of lands to government officials totalling GYD$174 million, he said “I am very confident in who I am” and he would be releasing more transcripts of “everything I have completed over the years. I want to assure you that I am very confident about my qualifications,” he said.
PPP General Secretary, Jagdeo declined to confirm the widely-held view that he backed Ali. At the same time he lauded the newly-minted presidential candidate for his age, ministerial performance, political mobilisation in Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands). “I think Ali is young, he can resonate with young people. He is 38 years old. When you talk about youth, we are the party that lives this,” said Jagdeo who became president at 35 years old.
“He has had several years as minister in one of the largest ministries. He has delivered house-lots to people across every single race in this country, every single religion and thousands of those too. You can see the one-stop shop. He was in charge of water, another big sector that made a transformational impact in that period. He was in charge in tourism so that experience is vital for delivery. I believe the next government will be about delivery to people. This government has failed absolutely on delivering and the key thing now, any government that can come into office and deliver goods and services to people immediately will stay there for a very long time,” he said.
On the issue Ali’s qualifications and the criminal charges, Jagdeo remarked that “maybe it had a backlash”.
Nandlall, for his part, expressed disappointment that he lost in his bid to lead the PPP to the polls either this year or next year depending on the outcome and time when ultimately the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) rules on the validity of the no-confidence motion that was passed 33-32 in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018.
“Naturally, I am disappointed. You don’t ever enter a contest thinking that you will not win. I thought that I would have won but the Central Committee of the party did not feel that way. They obviously voted in favour of Comrade Irfaan,” he said. He declined to say why he thought he lost.
Nandlall said all have pledged to work towards the PPP’s victory and his role in the next government would be determined if his party wins.
Former President Donald Ramotar and Dr. Anthony refused to comment on the outcome. Anthony and executive member of the Women’s Progressive Organisation, Indra Chandrapal left together in his vehicle.