Guyana welcomes its new President and new Government. Our prayers are with President Irfaan Ali and his new Government. President Ali is a dynamic, young leader and brings with him political and Government experience that only one other person in the previous Government had.
But President Ali’s team includes veterans like Bharrat Jagdeo, still a young man, Anil Nandlall and Gail Teixeira and young women and men from all races who will begin the job of placing Guyana back on the road to development. President Ali has committed to being a President of all Guyanese, not just some. He has promised there will be no laziness for his Government. Guyana is in good hands and we will see rapid changes, for the better.
On Sunday, August 2, things moved at a frenzied pace and after exactly five months of delays and shenanigans, GECOM made a declaration that could have been made as early as the evening of March 3, 2020. Nevertheless, the long-awaited declaration was made shortly after 02:00 pm August 2 and by 04:30 pm Guyana’s ninth President was sworn in.
The former President, Mr David Granger, after five months, was able to find an ounce of honesty and dignity. The new President immediately swore in the Prime Minister, a Vice President, the Attorney General and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance. Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, the new Vice President was placed in charge of the transition team. President Irfaan Ali started his long days and nights working for Guyana. In spite of the disappointments of the last five months, the transition so far has been peaceful. Guyana can breathe.
Guyana has already seen the difference. The President met with a large group of stakeholders and began to implement a National COVID-19 Control and Prevention Plan. In less than 24 hours, a COVID-19 response is already visible. The new Government has already secured 46,000 COVID-19 tests to begin a national widespread testing for COVID.
In six months, the previous Government was able to only complete about 4000 tests. This is in spite of the fact that the WHO, CARPHA and all international public health agencies have stated unequivocally that testing, testing, testing is among the top three things to do to stop the spread of COVID-19. The old Government relied on PAHO to provide it with limited numbers of test kits.
The new Irfaan Ali-led Government has immediately made the adjustment and secured 46,000 tests, many folds more than is available in Guyana today. It means a national testing strategy is being implemented without delay. This is the difference when there is a Government that cares for the people, which is committed to doing everything to protect the health of the people and to ensure the economy is propelled forward.
The new Government has much to do, but it is already also in a catch-up dilemma. It has to begin getting the economy running while at the same time taking control of a runaway COVID-19 epidemic. Too many people are suffering, more than 30,000 who lost their jobs in the last five years, thousands more at home because businesses have closed or are working in a more limited setting. The new Government will have to begin implementing a reopening of businesses strategy with COVID-19 a clear and present danger. Schools must begin to reopen also. Doing so while keeping our children safe, will be a challenge.
The new Government has shown that it will begin to address the myriad of challenges Guyana has, that it will begin to build confidence back in the country. A number of promises were made and the new Government will begin to implement its development strategy, ensuring these promises are kept, even though it is already discovering that the treasury has been raided in the last five years, but particularly in the last two years. Guyana has a bank overdraft of more than $100 billion, a foreign currency reserve that is less than half what it was in 2015, a bloated debt, and a stagnant economy, with export in decline.
There are some promises, however, that the Government must begin to implement. The $10,000 “Because We Care” school subsidy programme, the process of eliminating university fees etc must be addressed in the new budget. The new budget must address the reopening of sugar estates that were closed. Similarly, the new budget must accelerate the Georgetown by-pass road. Without any delay, large projects like the construction of the Demerara River Bridge and the Amaila Hydroelectricity Project must be resuscitated.
The construction of the Deep Water Harbour in the Berbice River, the Corentyne River Bridge and the Linden to Lethem Road are projects that must be given life by the new President and the new Government.
The next few weeks will show that President Irfaan Ali and his new PPP Government are prepared to move Guyana forward. In this new trajectory, the oil and gas industry is badly in need of leadership, which is critical for Guyana to move up as a high middle-income country, moving up to the top echelons among Caricom countries. The present arrangements do not allow Guyana to benefit maximally and endanger our reputation as one of the leaders for Low Carbon Development models.