The People’s Progressive Party took another step in its preparation for General Elections in Guyana when yesterday its Central Committee of 35 members elected Mr Mohamed Irfaan Ali as its presidential candidate. The PPP was in a fortunate position of electing a young leader from among a list of very qualified professionals – all of whom are very experienced in politics, Parliament and in Government; all of whom also have a long history of representing people across Guyana.
It was a hard-fought fight to become the next PPP presidential candidate and all the five candidates deserve commendation for going through the rigors of earning the confidence of the PPP’s Central Committee. Now it is up to the PPP and Ali to win the confidence of the people of Guyana. If the party and Ali can successfully persuade the people of Guyana in the soon-to-be-held Regional and General Elections, then Ali will become the next President and the second youngest President of Guyana.
In selecting Mohamed Irfaan Ali as its presidential candidate, the PPP has maintained its legacy of reposing hefty responsibility in youth and in promoting youth in leadership. When the PPP talk about the importance of youth, it actually has its history of creating space for youth to demonstrate their potential. It is the political party that in 1953, had a 35-year-old Cheddi Jagan as Premier, a 25-year-old Ashton Chase as Minister of Labour, and a 29-year-old Forbes Burnham as Minister of Education. In 1994, the PPP named Bharrat Jagdeo as the youngest-ever Minister of Finance at the age of 30. The PPP had the boldness and courage to name and then have Bharrat Jagdeo elected as President when he was only 35 years old and named Carolyn Rodrigues as a minister at the age of 25. The PPP named Carolyn Rodrigues later as the youngest-ever Minister of Foreign Affairs in any Caricom country and then followed that by naming Anil Nandlall as the youngest-ever Attorney General. Following upon this commitment to youth, the PPP now has named a youthful Irfaan Ali, at the age of only 38, to carry its mantle in the upcoming General Elections.
Inevitably, there are those among us who will question whether this young man has the experience to lead the nation at this critical time. It is a time when Guyana’s economy needs a major boost and a time when innovative ideas will be required to ensure the traditional economy is re-engineered to continue playing a major role in a transformed economy. It is also a time when oil and gas will become another major pillar in the economy and has the potential to transform the economy into the major Caricom economy. The questioning of Ali’s credentials to lead the country at this time, therefore, is relevant.
There can be no doubt that in spite of being still a young man, still a youth leader, Irfaan Ali also has extensive experience. He has been in a leadership role of the youth arm of the PPP – the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO) for almost two decades now and in the Party’s leadership for almost 15 years. Besides presently serving in the Party’s Central Committee and Executive, Irfaan Ali has served for almost a decade as the Party’s Finance Secretary. His involvement in political leadership has, therefore, not been trivial and has been in major roles. He has also been in leadership at the regional level and, since 2011, in both General and Regional and Local Government Elections (four successive elections) has led his Region Three to provide the biggest percentage of PPP wins.
He has served as minister, first being named a minister at the tender age of 28. Irfaan Ali’s Ministries were major ministries – Housing and Water, Trade and Industry and Tourism. For most of his ministerial experience, Irfaan Ali has controlled these two ministries at the same time. It was a major responsibility that the PPP, through its Presidents, Jagdeo and Ramotar, placed on a very young man. He did not disappoint them; he did not disappoint the PPP; and he served his country with distinction in these two portfolios. In his period as Minister of Housing, he led the establishment of more housing schemes in Guyana for any five-year period in the country’s history and distributed more house lots, particularly to low income and middle-income families, than any other Housing Minister in our history. As Minister of Water, he led Guyana to almost universal access to potable water and Guyana gained United Nations recognition for this achievement.
Under his tenure as Trade Minister, there were major business development and creation of several industrial parks. As Minister of Tourism, he led the drive to make tourism a major pillar of the growing and diversified economy. But Irfaan Ali distinguished himself not only as a competent and dynamic Minister of Government, he was also a dynamic legislator. He became a major spokesman in Parliament for the Government’s economic trajectory and the macro-economic and financial stability policies and actions of the then PPP Government. After 2015 – he assumed the role of shadow finance minister for the PPP and, in that capacity, he has been a thorn in the side of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government, exposing the weakness of their stewardship and the mismanagement of the economy. Ali has also been the Chair of the PAC and, in this capacity, has led the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in one of its most active periods of financial scrutiny in our parliamentary history.
He might be young, but he is also a very experienced governmentalist, legislator, and politician. The PPP has made an impressive choice for its presidential candidate. Together with a team that includes the other four persons that competed with him and, under the guidance and leadership of the PPP’s General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo, the PPP will be a formidable force in the next election. The other political parties will do well not to underestimate him.