“I AM ready for the challenge. Whatever I put my mind to I like to succeed. This is not for Elisabeth Harper. This is for all the women out there who see me as the first woman prime minister. This is for Guyana, the country in which I have lived and worked for almost four decades.”
This was the confident assertion from the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) prime ministerial candidate, Elisabeth Harper, in her first interview, a candid engagement that the National Communications Network (NCN) secured and televised live yesterday afternoon, and is slated to air again on NCN at 15:00 hrs (3pm) and 21:00 hrs (9pm) today.
‘Lis,’ a preference Harper indicated during the 20-minute broadcast, was interviewed by Olive Gopaul
Mrs Harper, a 57-year-old career diplomat, has worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for decades, and on the same confident note she declared her ticket, relative to social issues, many of which constitute hot-button debates in Guyana, which will form part of her list of priorities.
At the top of her list of seven, are education, jobs, crime, support for the elderly and economic growth.
According to her, advancing the development of Guyana’s improving education system is an area that must continue to receive the attention of those in positions to advance change.
She pointed out that Guyana’s successes to date have been recognised by none less than the United Nations (UN), whose head had extended an invitation to incumbent Head of State, President Donald Ramotar, to sit on an education reform council. She added that subject Minister, Priya Manickchand, has also guided significant strides for the sector.
“Education is a definite priority,” Mrs Harper posited.
The creation of more jobs, she added, in both the technical/vocational field and further afield is another essential issue that must be addressed and will have spin-off benefits for the development of the country as a whole.
These two, jobs and education, will assist in the reduction of Guyana’s crime rate. “We must have a zero tolerance,” the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate stressed.
She explained that for there to be a zero-tolerance policy for crime, there must also be a focus on stronger families.
“We must have certain things in place,” Mrs Harper said.
Each of the outlined issues, she added, is as important as care for the elderly. “We must acknowledge the contributions that the elderly have made to Guyana and we must respect that and honour them.”
Mrs Harper drew a few personal references at this point, disclosing that she herself cared for her mother until she was 91 years old, a woman who had Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that did not make her care an easy task.
“I know what it is for the elderly to need care, sometimes full-time care, and support. My mother had Alzheimer’s and that took us to another level…[it is] my passion and my husband’s passion, it is important,” she said.
A more recent memory, her last position of employ, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informed the fifth issue on her list: that of the preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Given my background and what has been done in the last five years to preserve, protect and maintain Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity [this is what informed me],” Mrs Harper said, adding that there have also been successes in securing international support for this endeavour.
Next up was the issue that almost every Guyanese has an interest in, the economy; and according to the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate, continued and sustained economic growth is key to building Guyana and positioning the country for a bright future – one that encourages investments and one, more importantly, that is marked by stability.
A STORY TO TELL
As was the underlying tone of her debut interview, Mrs Harper exclaimed that the last social issue is something of personal import, that of domestic violence – the subject of a story she has been able to tell and will continue telling, if it means support for another woman.
“Domestic violence is real,” she declared.
Mrs Harper recalled her first marriage and the “abuse” that characterised it, even as she maintained her respect for her former spouse, given that he remains the father of her children.
“He was abusive. I felt it was not right to subject myself or children to that unhealthy environment,” the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate said.
She added, “Me being able to tell my story, I feel that I could encourage women and interest groups in society to help to rid us of this; also help young women who are looking for role models who are looking to empower themselves.”
Her sentiments were expressed with the same confidence as when she commented on being able to come out of the May 11 General and Regional elections and becoming Guyana’s first female prime minister when she said, “This is for all the women out there who see me as the first woman prime minister.”
Mrs Harper explained that all together these seven issues are major ones that, with the appropriate continued focus, can complement the overall effort to ensure that Guyana is a country within which Guyanese youth remain in the country and enjoy good lives, as well as contribute to Guyana’s development.
“Ensuring that we can create an environment that is conducive to allowing our youths to remain in this country and build Guyana, that is important…the youth are our future…I have seen the potential for youth to develop themselves,” she said.
On that note, the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate highlighted the fact that she is very proud of her three children, as well as two grandchildren.
Unlike her first marriage, her second has been characterised by the kind of support that has contributed to her elevation as a professional in her field.
“(My first marriage) didn’t last because he did not respect or support my decision to further my career and education…my husband now is very supportive of what I do. His support helped me make my decision; [his support] was certainly a factor,” Mrs Harper declared.
She also disclosed to the Guyanese public that she became a mother at 17 years old, a situation that, according to her, made her stronger, with the support of her family.
“I was not made to feel less loved…my mother was disappointed because I had A-Levels to write, but she was very supportive. I know my mom had it hard because she was a single parent also, but she was strong and that is a strength that I took from her,” Mrs Harper said.
This thread of support that was weaved throughout her life, gave her confidence.
“Balancing all of it [family life and work] was challenging,” she admitted.
However, challenges aside, the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate made it clear that she accepted the offer to be the incumbent President, Donald Ramotar’s running mate with little hesitation.
Her religious belief, relative to prayer, and the fact that she has to consult with her family were the grounds she cited as the basis of her hesitation.
“I accepted in the end,” she exclaimed.
Questioned about any skepticism she may have over being under the spotlight and in the public eye, Mrs Harper acknowledged that the circumstances would be new, but refocused her attention on her seven-point list.
“I want the issues to take the forefront, the issues that Guyanese want us to focus on,” she said.
According to her, she has viewed the opportunity as a new role and a new platform from which to serve Guyana and the Guyanese people.
“I was honoured to be selected by President Donald Ramotar to be the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate and I am excited to have the opportunity to serve in another capacity, in a higher capacity, to develop Guyana….I see it as public service,” she stressed.
She added, “This opportunity if it does present itself, would allow me to use my four decades of experience building Guyana’s reputation around the world to contribute even further to Guyana’s development, in particular the honing of policies to create more jobs, ensure that educational opportunities are available to all Guyanese, reducing crime and helping to create an environment where families are whole and an environment which would encourage our young people to stay and help build their country.”
An opportunity to serve is the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate’s general summation of the opportunity before her – a challenge for which she is ready and one that has already inspired a seven-point priority list.
By Vanessa Narine