Voting for Irfaan Ali sends the wrong message


Dear Editor
MR. Irfaan Ali is probably a nice man. I have never personally met or interacted with him. In my research on the elections, I have read much on the candidates. He and I share a very common surname. However, it is hard to ignore the available public information on Mr. Ali. I’m not very political, but I can say that previous candidates on both sides never really had this cloud of personal issues surrounding them, including Mr. Jagdeo, Mr. Ramotar, and Mr. Granger. Their academic credentials were never in question. They all seem to follow traditional education and development paths prior to their rise to political power. But not so for Mr. Ali, whose achievements are shrouded in controversy.

While I haven’t decided for whom I will vote yet, I simply can’t vote for Mr. Ali, because I believe it would send the wrong message to the world, the country, and most importantly to Guyanese children. As parents, we spend our lives teaching our children to do the right thing. We teach them to be honest. We tell them “do not cheat”. We tell them, “speak the truth and cost it what it may.” We teach them to return change if the shopman gave them extra. We ensure they don’t copy their friend’s homework or cheat on a test. These are fundamental principles and we seem to be losing them in today’s society. Mr. Ali’s rise to power, particularly his academic achievements, is smeared in the shadow of lies, deceit and corruption.

Firstly, he is a UG dropout, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. Many students drop out of universities all the time. However, people do not turn around and fake their degrees to continue studying. They do not make up non-existent schools from which they get transcripts. Well, if they do and are caught, they usually have to face significant consequences, both legally and socially. But not so for Mr. Ali. Even worse, is that he got the Government of India financing to continue his study with the said fake credentials. I know many brilliant UG students who actually graduated and were unable to get any government scholarships to further their studies. But here is Mr. Ali, gaining access to Indian taxpayers’ money with fake credentials. Does this not stink of corruption? How does a UG dropout get money from anyone to study abroad?

Secondly, on January 1, 2012, the Kaieteur News published an extensive article showcasing Mr. Ali’s display of wealth. At age 31, and two years a minister, the publication claimed he had already owned an ocean-front property with a massive pool house. He attempted to sue the newspaper, but the last thing I read on the lawsuit was “Housing Minister Irfaan Ali must pay $50,000 to Kaieteur News after his lawyer incorrectly filed his writ claiming libel” (Kaieteur News January 21, 2012). I’m not sure of the outcome of the lawsuit, but the questions still remain. How does a young government minister, who according to him has been studying extensively and working on a government salary, suddenly is able to afford this? Let’s take a closer look. From 1991-1996, Mr. Ali was in high school. From 1996-2000 (thereabout) he was attending UG, but failed to graduate. All the while he’s deeply involved in the PPP.
Then by 2002 or so he leaves to study in India. Was Ali attending UG and the fake West Demerara School at the same time? He returned in 2004 and started at the Ministry of Finance. In less than eight years, with additional time apparently still studying at each turn, Mr. Ali manages to erect luxurious properties? If we follow the path of other Guyanese in Mr. Ali’s age group, even someone like PPP’s young Charles Ramson, Jr., we have to believe that they are really dumb and that Mr. Ali was able to tap into unmatched financial skills and secrets to propel himself above his peers. Or maybe it’s simpler, he cheated again. At the very Housing Ministry where Mr. Ali was minister, I know of young men and women his age who had more education than Mr. Ali, but not his accumulation of wealth. Many of them had completed UG and gone on to do their Master’s degree. But I’m sure none of them were as lucky as Mr. Ali.

Finally, Mr. Ali gains a doctorate! Usually people would have such respect for this level of educational achievement. I know very few people with PhDs. However, all the questions leading to this have not been satisfactorily answered for me to display any excitement over the candidate’s achievement. In some ways, I imagine it is an affront to those with Ph.Ds. After listening to him in interviews and at political rallies, I am convinced that Mr. Ali does not possess the intellectual confidence, nor does he demonstrate the command of language typical of people at that level of academic achievement. Take for example Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, Dr. Frank Anthony, Dr. Vindhya Persaud and others. He doesn’t even compare well to people without PhDs like Anil Nandlall, Gail Teixeira, Charles Ramson Jr. and Priya Manickchand.

Moreover, I have never seen anyone with a Ph.D. talk only of acquiring the degree and de-emphasise the work they did. Usually PhDs are about contributing to a body of knowledge, not getting a title. Such people are often more concerned about discussing their work and how to expand on it. Many of them become professors and researchers. Mr. Ali appears more interested in the PhD. title for political reasons than anything else. Not once have I heard him discuss his work and his contribution to the field of study. Where is his dissertation? When I googled Mr. Ali’s name, I could not find any peer-reviewed publications in any journals. Not once have I heard the media even ask him this.
So many students describe the challenges and difficulties when studying at such a high level. Not once did the media ask Mr. Ali about the process and how he was able to persevere at such an academic level while serving in Parliament and as minister of both housing and tourism. Maybe parliamentary and ministerial work is not work at all? There are rumours that someone may have written Ali’s dissertation, but this has not been confirmed. Nonetheless, the fakeness of this accomplishment shines through and there are still questions surrounding it. I would love to interview the panel in front of whom Mr. Ali defended his work. These are usually public defences, but again, we’re talking about Mr. Ali–so it’s anyone’s guess if an actual defence had occurred.

How can I teach my children to follow in Mr. Ali’s footsteps? What am I supposed to say to them? It’s okay if you fake your degree, once you come out ahead? It’s ok if you use your government and party position to benefit yourself, once you don’t get caught? It’s ok to cheat and lie? I don’t know about you, but my conscience does not allow me to raise my children this way and voting for Mr. Ali sends them the wrong message. Surely, the PPP could have found a better young candidate. We may have even settled for someone with less academic achievement, but with high authenticity. Our children and our country deserve better!

Donna Ali-Thomas