Strangling sugar workers

first_imgThe APNU/AFC government is clearly determined to execute its unilateral decision to close down the sugar industry and throw its 17,000 workers on the breadline. Early in the 2015 elections campaign, the leader of the PNC, David Granger, had so declared, but he later confessed he was persuaded by his erstwhile coalition partner, AFC, and its Prime Ministerial candidate, Moses Nagamootoo, to change his mind. Upon accession to office, the PNC-led APNU/AFC coalition government immediately announced a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to take stock of the condition of the sugar industry and make recommendations for the way forward.A million CoI was duly constituted, with GuySuCo Chairman Dr Clive Thomas as a member, and delivered its report in October 2016. Essentially, it recommended that GuySuCo be privatised in toto within three years, with no closure of estates. “In the interval, as the privatization process is awaited, the new management of GuySuCo must focus on basic essentials to rehabilitate the fields, factories and infrastructure of GuySuCo. There should be no accommodation for any projects which will demand limited funds. This is aimed at making the estates more saleable and attractive to investors, local and foreign.”However, the ink had barely dried on the copy of the CoI given to Parliament and the public when this newspaper broke the news that the Government had decided to close the Wales factory on the West Bank of Demerara. After a period of denial, the Government conceded this was indeed the case. This closure of Wales without a word of warning to its 1700 workers, and its subsequent fate, is an object lesson to the workers at the two other estates — Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara, and Rose Hall in Canje, Berbice — which the Government announced will now be closed at the end of this year. These closures will bring the number of workers on the breadline at this time to some 5,000, with another 2,000 in limbo at Skeldon, which is supposed to be sold off ASAP.The Government has never explained why it ignored the recommendations of its CoI, and it is not surprising that the ordinary Guyanese believes the CoI was simply a subterfuge to have the AFC save face with the sugar workers, whose interests they has boasted of representing when they teamed up with the PNC. The total rejection of the CoI’s recommendations also demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that, now that the PNC-dominated APNU had secured office, there was no need to keep any promises made to the AFC.At Wales, the Government declared that some of the lands would be allocated to workers, some diversified into fish farming, some sold off, and the cane from private cane farmers would be transported to the Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara factory for processing. This, however, would necessitate the construction of roadways that would cost at least billion, and two years later, nothing has been done. How would farmers’ cane, which comprised 40% of the Wales intake, be transported to Uitvlugt?No land, also, has been converted to fish farming or made available to workers; and even if it had been, the workers are not so ignorant as to invest in crops for which there are no markets domestically. For crops to be exported, there would be the need to identify these, coordinate production, locate and tie down markets etc, which are beyond the capabilities of the average ex-sugar workers. In other countries, for the offer of land to be meaningful, the Government would have at least organised a holding corporation to perform those ancillary, but crucial functions.The Government has, unfortunately, chosen to enter the production of seed-paddy at Wales, which would only utilise approximately 600 of the available 8000 acres. The remainder of land would fast revert to being overgrown. This is the fate of the soon-to-be closed estates, as well as the others which will not survive with the basket they were given by the Government to fetch water.last_img

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