PPP presidential candidate Dr. Irfaan Ali has found his voice. This is a welcome sign for someone who is vying for the nation’s highest office and has to establish a platform for himself. Two of his recent commentaries are deserving of attention given the gravity of the issues, the opportunity the candidate had or has to distinguish himself, and the role he could have played in such regard.
Last Monday he had more than a mouthful to say about First Oil which flows from this month. He is right to note that this new economic prospect finds a nation without the requisite legislation and Local Content Policy. Where he is wrong, is seeking to ascribe that blame solely at the feet of the government, who admittedly could have been working more diligently on these issues. We must call a spade a spade.
The petroleum sector should bring benefit to all Guyanese, but the Opposition has abrogated its constitutional responsibility to Guyana, and moreso its constituents, in ensuring parity from this resource. Instead, its focus has been to hold the nation hostage to the ransom note of ‘election now or nothing moves.’
In pursuit of this, the party stood on the sideline, threatened and condemned from afar. Its leadership failed in its duty to propose and where necessary constructively oppose, concentrating solely on seeking to dispose.
The Constitution allows any member of the House to present a Bill or Motion for debate and passage. If the opposition was serious about us benefitting from the sector, and felt the government was lagging, the Leader could have demanded the reconvening of the National Assembly to address this matter. The petroleum sector is a matter of grave national import and the House should have had special sittings to safeguard Guyana and the well-being of all Guyanese.
In August, Lisa Destiny, the floating production storage and offloading vessel, arrived in Guyana. In the same month, and September, Hess and Exxon announced major finds. In spite of these developments, the opposition continued its weekly media brawls about elections, illegal government, etc., and did nothing meaningful pertaining to the sector. It hid behind a deceptive argument to justify its disinterest, on the ploy that given the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled in June that the 21st December 2018 no-confidence vote was validly passed, government cannot function, and elections must be held by 18th September.
Said argument ignored the 12th July Judgement at Items 7 and 8 which ordered the political actors – viz the President, National Assembly and implicitly GECOM – to determine the date for election and allow for the continuation of government until the election, albeit in a caretaker/interim capacity.
Then there is the other issue of sugar which Irfaan sought to assure society the PPP has grand plans for. It was during the PPP administration that sugar’s fortune changed drastically, and it proved incapable of salvaging the industry. Presented with the opportunity to diversify and retool with financial support offered from the European Union, that government blew it.
The nation witnessed a scatter-shot approach in decision-making. US$200-plus million was wasted in building the Skeldon Sugar Factory which became a white elephant. It is sad to see this factory standing idle and rotting, because it represents the single largest debt incurred by government. All of these millions have gone for naught and the taxpayers are saddled with the burden of repaying the loan.
In its restructuring plan, the PPP closed sugar estates and workers were sent home. How can we not be shocked by Ali’s announcement that a PPP government will reopen the estates? This gentleman sat in the Cabinet that took the decision to close estates. He was part of the administration that floundered around in managing the industry. Why must workers/citizens believe that he has found a resurrection plan, and having before closed estates, will now reopen them? He has to know he better come good, because the tomfoolery is not accepted.
Buttressing the empty promises is the recent call on the Government by the Leader of the Opposition to find money to pay sugar workers. In principle I am not opposed to workers receiving better wages and improve conditions of work, for as a trade unionist this is what I’m committed to. The management of GuySuCo must return to the negotiation table with the sugar unions and engage in Collective Bargaining. The law must trump egos or bruised feelings.
That notwithstanding, the Opposition is seeking to pull wool over our eyes. Given its track record in sugar, the utterances of Ali cannot be trusted nor should we believe that Jagdeo is interested in sugar workers being paid any increase. He has made a political calculation and is gambling on GuySuCo’s action angering the workers to the point where it creates alienation and resentment. To him the sugar estates and adjoining communities are viewed as voting farms, to reap of their bounty not to ensure their sustenance. And here’s why I say this.
This nation can attest to instances where Government and Opposition have had engagements where either side construe its constituents are adversely affected and the nation’s stability threatened. Some of these are:- the Forbes Burnham/Cheddi Jagan commitment that realised recognition of GAWU and employment in the public sector for recipients of PPP scholarship; Desmond Hoyte/Cheddi Jagan electoral reform; Janet Jagan/Desmond Hoyte constitutional reform; Bharrat Jagdeo/Desmond Hoyte Agreement; and Jagdeo/Robert Corbin communiqué. The latter two were never honoured by Mr. Jagdeo.
Nothing prevents him, were he serious about the welfare of sugar workers, from laying before President Granger issues of concern and hammering out an agreement. He could have done what his predecessors (Opposition Leaders) did, and whereas during his presidency he failed to honour any commitment, there are positive precedents to rely on. People’s suffering/concern should not present political currency to exploit for self-interest.
Unfortunately, Irfaan as a relatively young leader is quite comfortable with the status quo of the opposition. By carrying his leader’s bitter chalice, he has allowed himself to be wholly restrained, acting only on command. He has passed over the opportunity to say to the leader, who desires total compliance, that he refuses to be chained to a politics of destruction and vindictiveness. He could have asserted himself by making known such conduct carry dire consequences for society, and moreso his generation
Approximately two-third of this nation’s population is 40 years and younger. As a Member of Parliament, Ali earns a salary of not less than of 264,500 per month. For the last 11 months, taxpayers paid him a princely sum of approximately three million dollars to go to work, on their behalf, in the Parliament. He has accepted monthly salary and benefits for not working. It must not escape attention or accountability, for it is not for the want of forces in society calling on our politicians to do something about the petroleum sector and sugar, yet the opposition continues to demonstrate it cares not for the people and its constitutional duty.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)