With the pomp and ceremony somewhat curtailed by the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inauguration of our 9th Executive President, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, was yet a magnificent occasion at the National Cultural Centre yesterday. The cultural events preceding the President’s Inauguration Address epitomised the diversity of Guyana’s peoples. But, unlike the election that exacerbated the differences inherent in that diversity, the Inauguration emphasised the unity that can be woven from diversity.
A welcome addition to the Christian, Hindu and Muslim prayers that highlight our multi-religious society and commence our national events was a prayer made in the Macushi language, which the inauguration featured. It was made by a member of that tribe within the Indigenous Peoples of our land. The dances, in a similar vein, demonstrated our multicultural diversity with African, Indian and Indigenous-derived expressions. The Police Band and Choir provided several renditions of our national songs, which were highlighted by a stirring rendition of a modern composition rendered by a young, upcoming artiste who is noted for her “Guyanese orientation”.
Continuity and change
The highlight of the Inauguration was, of course, the address by President Ali, which, at his swearing in, he had promised would elaborate more fully on his plans for the next five years.
In rousing tones, he began his address by promising, as he had done at every opportunity, to govern as the President of all Guyanese. He alluded to the divisiveness that had been fostered by the now Opposition APNU/AFC in their long, five-month war of attrition to hijack the elections, but vowed to heal those fissures through the implementation of concrete policies which he proceeded to adumbrate, even as he promised that those who broke the law would be punished.
He immediately put numbers to his COVID-19 programme by announcing that $5.5B would be allocated to helping households, while programmes to assist the hard-hit business sector would be unfurled. The political weaponising of the pandemic by the APNU/AFC would be halted with the immediate disbanding of the Harmon/Nagamootoo-led Task Force, and the job would be turned over to professionals.
He spoke feelingly of the hardships faced by workers in the sugar and bauxite belts, caused by the intransigence and misguided policies of the APNU/AFC government. He reiterated his commitment to resuscitate the sugar industry, while simultaneously facilitating the transformation of Guyana into a “centre of economic activity”. His commitment to reducing the cost of energy by 50% should, in and of itself, help to achieve that goal.
Ali took special pains to acknowledge the presence of the President of Surname, His Excellency Chandraprasad Santokhi, with whom he promised to work very closely as their nations proceed to exploit the discoveries of petroleum that followed the ICJ’s demarcation of their maritime boundaries. He promised quick formation of the Petroleum Commission that would ensure the sector is ring-fenced from political interference.
On the western front, he implicitly rejected the proposal floated by Venezuela: that Guyana should reopen “dialogue” to settle their border controversy. President Ali reminded that his party had supported the previous administration’s move to have the matter resolved by the ICJ, and is steadfastly resolved in this policy.
The President expressed heartfelt gratitude to all those individuals, institutions, regional blocs and countries that had stood with Guyana in its struggle for democracy against the APNU/AFC. The US, Canada, UK and the EU were singled out in this respect, as were Caricom, the Carter Center and the OAS.
He led a moment of silence as a mark of respect for former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who passed away after standing up personally to the PNC’s bullyism as the head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission.
Most critically for the stability of Guyana in going forward, President Ali declared, “In our manifesto, we pledged to pursue inclusionary Constitutional Governance. I intend to see that pledge implemented. To do so will require certain constitutional reforms, which we will be formulating in consultation with the people. We will conduct a National Conversation in which all ideas will contend, and all voices will be heard.”
In sum, President Irfaan Ali gave Guyana renewed hope.