Dr Irfaan Ali sworn in as 9th Executive President of Guyana
…recommits to govern for “best interest” of Guyanese
Five months after a record-breaking protracted electoral process stemming from the caretaker A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition’s refusal to accept defeat and give up office, People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) Dr Irfaan Ali was on Sunday finally sworn-in as the ninth Executive President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
The swift and simple ceremony took place around 16:00h at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown – the same venue that was used for the National Recount which verified Ali’s victory at the March 2 polls.
The 33-day exercise confirmed the PPP/C won the presidency with a commanding 233,336 votes, a remarkable lead of 15,416 votes over its nearest political rival, the APNU/AFC – which has been insistent in hanging onto power and dragged out the electoral process with several litigations in the courts. The coalition secured 217,920 votes.
Dr Ali was sworn-in by Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, following the much-anticipated declaration by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) earlier on Sunday.
In his inaugural address as President-elect, Dr Ali committed to Guyanese that he will uphold the Oath of Office he took and work every day in the best interests in the people of Guyana.
“There is one future and that future requires a united Guyana. That future requires a strong Guyana. That future requires every Guyanese to play a part in building our country, ensuring we leave a better Guyana for the next generation. We are in this together. We are not separated by class, by ethnicity, by religion or by political persuasion. We are united in the true Guyanese spirit,” he asserted.
The President-elect noted that there is a lot of work to be done and this will start instantaneously.
Unity and inclusiveness
In fact, in a subsequent interview, he posited that it is now time for Guyana to charter a way forward that is built on unity and inclusiveness. He used the opportunity to reassure Guyanese that he and his Administration will continue to govern for all of Guyana.
“We have to be respectful to each other. We have to ensure, and this is what [my] Government will be focused on, a development agenda that would reflect the priorities of every Guyanese. We’re building a country for every Guyanese. There is no [need] for fear, there is no need for distinction based on political persuasion; no need for distinction based [on] religious belief or ethnicity. This is a Government for all of Guyana and that is the way this Government will operate,” he contended.
Reflecting on the event over the past five months, Ali explained that the experience will further strengthen his resolve and commitment to good governance and adhering to the rule of law.
“I did not require the events of the last five months to make me more appreciative of who we are as a people. We all have responsibility to safeguard and protect who we are as a people, to protect our freedom and our democracy. So, the events have strengthened my resolve and my commitment to ensuring that democracy, good governance, the rule of law and the changes that are required to ensure we never find ourselves back in a position like that, must be addressed,” he posited.
The President further outlined that Sunday’s events are all about celebrating democracy and on that note, expressed his gratitude to the various political parties, civil society, the diplomatic and international community and other stakeholders who were committed to ensuring democracy was protected and prevailed in Guyana.
“Guyana will have a bright future because of your efforts. I take the Oath of Office because of the hard work of many individuals… We thank you sincerely for your confidence and your trust… In voting for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, you’ve elect a Government to serve all the people of Guyana and that is what your next Government will be doing,” he added.
Dr Ali brings to the presidency a long and diverse experience at all levels of Government. He previously served as a Government Minister under the PPP/C, with responsibilities for major sectors like housing, tourism and commerce. During his tenure, he conceptualised and implemented the largest and most extensive housing drive in the country’s history, undergirded by a massive house lot distribution to citizens from all strata and geographic regions.
The 40-year-old politician also has a wealth of parliamentary experience; he became a Member of Parliament in 2006 and during the last National Assembly, he chaired one of the most important committees; the Public Accounts Committee which is responsible for examining public expenditure.
Ali was born in Leonora, West Coast Demerara (WCD). He attended St Stanislaus College and has been a member of the PPP for over 20 years, starting at the Party’s youth arm. He was recently awarded a PhD in Philosophy in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the West Indies at St Augustine, Trinidad. He has also been a part of the leadership for 15 years, during which time he held the position of Finance Secretary for several years.
In his professional experience before he became a Minister, Ali worked as an economic planner, also chairing a Project Steering Committee on the Low-Income Settlement Committee.
He also worked as the National Programme Coordinator of local Caribbean Development Bank-funded programmes. When he did become a Minister in 2009, he went on to serve in the Cabinet for seven years.
The new President has committed to executing the manifesto of the party, which they consider to be a contract they made with the electorate which put them into office. The PPP/C has outlined a range of policies and programmes it intends to embark upon to bring relief to the country’s economic sectors, business community, and ordinary citizens who have been largely affected by the policies and programmes, or lack thereof, implemented under the APNU/AFC Administration.
However, in an overarching manner, the new President announced in the period during the long recount that he was very concerned about immediately addressing divisions in the country which were precipitated and exacerbated by the APNU/AFC’s hysterical and incendiary campaign.
He specifically pointed to the need for inclusive governance, which was included in the manifesto but which he will prioritise. He also pointed to the already stagnated economy, which was further devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as requiring his urgent attention. It is fortuitous that economic development is the new President’s forte and it is expected that he will hit the ground running in this area.
While President Ali combines youth with experience, he heads a team that includes his Prime Minister Mark Philips with decades of organisational experience as a senior officer of the Guyana Defence Force and also the former longest-serving President of the Republic of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, who has promised to place all his experience at the service of the new Administration. Unlike the outgoing Administration, the PPP/C, which was in office only five years ago, has experienced personnel at all levels, inclusive of the youthful faces that have been seen during the campaign.
Among the policies outlined in the PPP/C manifesto are the removal of Value-Added Tax (VAT) on key areas such as electricity, water and healthcare.
Also, on the Party’s agenda is the reversal and/or reduction of the over 200 tax measures imposed by the coalition Administration — such as on building materials, on data, and exports. VAT will also be reversed on farming, mining and forestry equipment.
The Party has promised to reverse the land rent, and draining and irrigation charges on cattle rearing, rice farming and new taxes miners.
The manifesto outlined 20,000 online scholarships and plans to offer free university education within its five-year term in office.
Other areas the PPP plans to address are reducing the age limit on the importation of vehicles, reversal of the 2 am curfew, the restoration of the Joint Services bonus and support for small businesses.