…“It’s time we give way to young people” – Noel Holder
Admitting that the current batch of Ministers is perhaps the “oldest” to ever govern the country, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said it is time he retires from politics to allow the younger generation to take over – something he believes his colleagues should also do.
“At 74, it’s time I give way to young people,” he told Guyana Times during an exclusive interview on Monday.
Holder, whose wife, the late Sheila Holder – along with others – founded the Alliance For Change (AFC), was not among the candidates on the coalition Government’s lists it submitted to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Nominations Day.
“Since last year I told my party, the AFC, that I was not able to come back and I told His Excellency [David Granger] that I will call it a day,” Holder said, explaining it is time for others to get the opportunity to contribute to the development of the country.
In fact, he contended that many Ministers and other persons currently in positions of authority are not young people.
“This current Government is probably the oldest Government this country has ever had!”
“After independence, the first set of people to run the country are [Forbes] Burnham and [Cheddi] Jagan. They were in their late 30s and early 40s. And then you skip a generation and you came to the [Bharrat] Jagdeo lot…they were much younger, 30s and early 40s,” Holder explained.
“The [David] Granger Administration has a fair amount of mature people, myself included. You got people like [Winston] Felix, who is in his late 60s, Prime Minister [Moses] Nagamootoo, who turned 70 the other day, Carl Greenidge, who is late 60s, [Joseph] Harmon is 65, you see what I mean?”
“So, I believe it’s time for us, having brought some maturity to the system, it’s time that we move on and hand over to the younger generation,” Holder expressed.
The APNU/AFC Government has been constantly criticised, especially by the parliamentary Opposition, for sidelining youths, particularly since the majority of its Cabinet members are above the age of 50.
In fact, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has welcomed fresh and youthful faces on its candidates’ lists whereas the coalition would have, for the most part, recycled old blood.
Holder was appointed Agriculture Minister at the start of the coalition’s term in office in May 2015.
It was under his watch that the four sugar estates were shut down, sending thousands of persons on the breadline. These are the Wales Estate, the Enmore Estate, the Skeldon Estate and the Rose Hall Estate. Asked if he had any regrets about the decision or the way in which it was executed, Holder replied in the negative.
“I’m quite happy…I am very pleased,” Holder said.
“Sugar harvesting and cane-cutting are not ideal occupations. People prefer to do other things. So, if you want to maintain your industry, that 10,000 employees you got now, in another year or two, it will become less by natural declension. So how will be harvest the cane, so we have to move to mechanism,” the Agriculture Minister explained.
“So, I am quite happy with what we’ve done with the sugar industry,” he posited, assuring that with the current Government’s plan, the industry will “become viable again”.
The closure of the estates, however, was widely criticised by numerous sections of society, including the Private Sector and the parliamentary Opposition.
The move sent thousands on the breadline and scores of communities into depression, many of which are still, to this day, unable to recover.
But Holder posited that he has done more, under his tenure, than oversee the closure of the estates.
Among of his achievements, he said, are the appointment of a Chief Agricultural Officer – a position which did not previously exist, the passage of the Food Safety Act, and making several semi-autonomous agencies like the Guyana Rice Development Board and the Pesticides and Toxic Chemical Control Board self-sufficient and self-financing.
Regarding regrets, Holder said he was unable to make other semi-autonomous agencies, like the Hydromet Office, self-financing.
But he hopes whoever takes over the mantle, be it the current or a new Government, that the Agriculture Minister will continue on the “progress” he made for the sector.