Emphasizing that young people are the future of Guyana, former president Bharrat Jagdeo justified the selection of several young professionals – some of them children of senior People’s Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic members – on the party’s list of candidates for the May 11 general election.
The list includes Dr. Thandi Luncheon, civil engineer Rabindranauth Chandarpal and University of Waterloo Master’s in computer science graduate, Alexei Ramotar.
A medical doctor, Dr. Luncheon is the daughter of presidential secretariat head, Dr. Roger Luncheon; while Chandarpal and Ramotar are the sons of late Minister of Agriculture and presidential adviser Navin Chandarpal and president Donald Ramotar, respectively.
“Are we saying that this young engineer who has been doing party work should not have an expectation to be on the list because his father was a PPP member?” asked Jagdeo at a press conference in Toronto last week. “These are young people with a future who will inherit the country.”
One of the youngest heads of state when he became president at age 35 in August 1999, Jagdeo said the main opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition’s slate doesn’t reflect the vibrancy and youth needed to advance the country.
“You have Professor Harold Lutchman who is in his 80s, along with Carl Greenidge (an economist and former Finance Minister), David Granger and Moses Nagamootoo (coalition leaders) who are approaching 70 or are there already,” he said. “I am in no way knocking seniors because they can contribute, but you have to encourage young people too. I would prefer a young doctor and engineer ahead of some fossils who have never made a contribution to the country and who see everything that’s bad about Guyana. They are people who are stuck in their mindset, have been around for ages and are negative about our entire future.”
Jagdeo, who won two elections before stepping down after a term limit amendment was made to the constitution, promised that young people will be fully integrated in all sectors of the country’s life if the PPP/Civic is victorious in the upcoming election.
“The traditional sectors such as rice, sugar and bauxite have plateaued in terms of wealth and jobs creation,” he said. “Unlike the rest of the Caribbean that has been struggling with tourism and the financial service sectors, we have identified six or seven growth poles that can create the wealth of the future along with high paying jobs.”
Jagdeo singled out information and communications technology as a sector that’s ripe to generate employment.
“We are looking at 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in that area,” he said. “The young people who do not get the necessary five subjects at the regional exams that are required to enter university can consider call centre jobs. We are also looking at putting more remedial programs in place to train youths who drop out of school. In the last five years, we have trained about 20,000 school drop-outs and tried to connect them to jobs.”
Jagdeo said the four-lane East Bank highway road expansion between Diamond and Providence will be completed in the next four months and the PPP/Civic is considering part-ownership of an airline.
Guyana Airways was dissolved in 2001 and Caribbean Airways and Fly Jamaica are the main carriers operating between Toronto and Georgetown.
Named a “Hero of the Environment” by TIME Magazine in 2008, Jagdeo is confident the ruling party will prevail in the election despite losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years at the 2011 poll.
“The opposition used their one-seat majority to stymie progress and not support development,” he said. “However, when we assumed office (in 1992), 94 per cent of revenue went to service external debt. Today, it’s down to four per cent of revenue to service external debt, and that’s the best figure in the region. In the social sector, we have seen a huge transformation in education and health and these are mirrored in growing standards of achievements at exams by our students. We have seen more people owning assets and a growth of the middle-class in Guyana. We also have the largest housing boom in the Caribbean.
“We have a proud record of growing income and reducing poverty and we think people will look at this record of achievement and vote for us. We also have what we think is the most viable plan for the future. We have outlined in great detail what we plan to do in each sector and how they will relate to a better standard of living for our people.”
The party’s general secretary, Clement Rohee, who was scheduled to attend the press conference and a party fundraiser at Elite Banquet Hall last Friday, didn’t make the trip.
“It’s not that Clement didn’t want to come, but he had to do something else,” said Jagdeo, who in June 2013 was recognized for his leadership in advocating for environmentally progressive policies with an honorary doctor of laws degree from Trent University. “He is in the thick of things and in charge of our campaign. I am not running so I can come out and talk to people here about the party’s policies because I am familiar with them and the history of our being in government.”
Senior Minister Irfan Ali sat next to Jagdeo at the hour-long press conference and answered just one question – the last – which was the only one directed to him in relation to tourism which portfolio he oversees.