Guyanese in the Diaspora are essential to the development of the country and the A Party for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) coalition plan to engage them meaningfully if elected in the May 11 election.
Presidential candidate, David Granger, made the promise at an election fundraising brunch in the Greater Toronto Area recently. He told supporters that the country will be unable to pull itself out of the political, social and economic abyss it’s in without their collaborative support.
For the country to survive, Granger said it needs its Diaspora members’ money and talent.
“Right now, remittances are a significant portion of the Gross Domestic Product and four of every five graduates from the University of Guyana are migrating in search of better opportunities,” he said at a press conference. “The Diaspora is central to our development and we can’t ignore you.”
If elected, Granger said the coalition will establish a Diaspora department and propose a meeting next year of nationals in the Diaspora to coincide with Guyana’s 50th independence anniversary on May 26, 1966.
“We don’t want to sit in Georgetown and dictate to you what should be done,” he said. “We want to hear from you what are your concerns and how we can address them. We will do everything to engage you in a meaningful way as Guyana cannot escape its current plight without your support.”
It’s estimated that there are about 250,000 Guyanese in Canada, the majority in Ontario.
Established four years ago, APNU is made up five parties. They are the Guyana Action, Justice for All, National Front Alliance, People’s National Party/Reform and the Working People’s Alliance.
Last February, APNU signed an accord with the Alliance for Change party, led by former People’s Progressive Party/Civic minister, Moses Nagamootoo, who accompanied Granger to the GTA.
“It’s the first time in the political history of Guyana that we have a six-party coalition coming together,” said Granger. “We have a common commitment to establish a government of national unity. That is what brought us together. It’s not a question of sharing power or office. It’s a question of transforming the political culture of our country. We have had one party in government for the past 23 years and, over that time, there has been an increase in crime, corruption and cronyism. Our country has fallen behind the rest of the Caribbean. We feel that to overcome the problems of development and national cohesion there needs to be a government of national unity. That’s the main reason why these six parties have come together.
“For the first time, we have a coalition representing 175,000 voters as opposed to the 166,000 who voted for the PPP/Civic in 2011. We had a majority in the national assembly and during that time, the PPP/Civic refused to implement all of the reasonable resolutions that have been passed and refused to hold local government elections forcing us to bring a no-confidence motion in the government. That was what led to the proroguing of parliament.”
Earlier this year, Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar, took the rare constitutional measure of “proroguing” parliament for a maximum six months to halt a non-confidence debate, leaving the 65-member national assembly suspended but not dissolved.
In addition to engaging the Diaspora, Granger said the reformation of the police service is high on the coalition agenda if it’s elected.
“When we are talking about reform for that institution, we are speaking about root and branch reform,” said Granger, a former Guyana Defence Force commander and opposition leader. “Members need improved training and salaries and better assets to fight crime.”
The coalition also plans to address rising poverty and opportunities for young people.
Granger said nearly 6,000 young people are dropping out of primary and secondary schools annually and almost 75 per cent of the prison population comprises youths.
“Far too many of our young people are illiterate and unemployable,” he said. “The current government has taken them for granted. We are advocating for technical and agricultural institutes in every region of the country that will provide them with the skills they need to contribute to our society.”
A former national security adviser, Granger noted that the University of Guyana (UG) is not providing students with a quality education.
“UG is severely underfunded,” he said. “It needs about four times what it’s getting right now to do the job of a post-secondary institution. Because of poor salaries, there are lecturers with first degrees or are a few semesters short of acquiring that degree.”
While confident that the coalition will win the election, Nagamootoo said the party will leave no stone unturned in its victory quest.
“This election may very well turn out to be a free election which we will win, but I am afraid as a journalist and someone involved in public relations for a very long time that it’s not going to be a fair election because the government has access to state resources,” he said.