GAWU urges gov’t: Give sugar industry all $31.5b EU funding

The union GAWU yesterday called again on the government to give the troubled sugar industry all of the estimated $31.5b which the European Union (EU) has disbursed to Guyana since 2007 to offset the impact of sweeping reforms to the EU sugar regime.

Iteration of the call by the union- strongly allied to the government – comes in the wake of continuing concerns over the fate of the industry and a call on Tuesday by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to restructure and diversify it.

The call by GAWU, the main sugar union, would be seen as adding pressure on the government to account for the EU monies and why they have not all been spent on the industry. The union also took the opportunity to call again for the revamping of the GuySuCo board and the hiring of an able chairman.

GAWU adverted to the impact on the industry from the 36% cut, phased in from 2006, on the price that the EU paid for sugar from Guyana and other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries.

The union noted that it was almost a whole year before the EU Accompanying Measures were activated and funds disbursed to Guyana and other ACP countries.

“The toll of the price cut on the sugar industry was significant. Factories have been starved of important and costly components, certain field operations and infrastructural work have had to be shelved or only partly undertaken. This and other related factors saw lower sugar production and inadequate yields of canes per hectare”, GAWU asserted.  The government and the Guyana Sugar Corporation had been chided by critics for cutting spending in recent years on the fundamentals needed to keep the sugar industry going.

GAWU said that recently the EU Commission in Georgetown stated that from 2007 to 2011, €91.5M or $21.5B was disbursed to the Guyana Government under the accompanying measures. For the years 2012 and 2013, the transfers were said to be about €45M or about $10B.

“It is the understanding of the Union that only a small portion of the total disbursements had been received by the sugar industry for the financing of the Enmore Packaging Plant and a few budgetary support. GAWU holds the view that all the disbursements ought to be fully released to the sugar industry even belatedly so that the industry’s capitalization and other field programmes will not continue to suffer and put a brake on the industry’s rejuvenation. GAWU, therefore, renews this call for the exclusive use of the EU disbursements to contribute to sugar’s recovery and also additional support”, the union said.

Opposition figures and others have long called for the government to account for the expenditure of the EU monies and to state how much was actually used on sugar.

GAWU yesterday also argued that the appointment of a new Board of Directors of GuySuCo with an able Chairman should no longer be delayed.

“This professional leadership is crucial and we are certain that there are competent persons with the requisite skills to draw from”, GAWU said. This statement would be seen as an attack on the current state of affairs at the board. The previous chairman Raj Singh was recently appoin-ted as Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo. It is unclear whether a new chairman will be appointed and neither GuySuCo nor the government has made public statements on this matter. GAWU has not been happy with the performance of Singh and his board.

GAWU said that once the recommended measures were in place, it saw no reason why the industry’s output in under three years’ time could not be once again significant and the industry  viable. It noted that between 1992 and 2004 the industry demonstrated resilience and ability to come out of the doldrums.

Noting APNU’s statements on Tuesday, GAWU said that the continuing focus on the industry was reflective of its importance to the economy and country and to thousands of workers and their families who depend on it.

“While a public discussion on the status and future of the industry is quite in order, the GAWU is concerned that jockeying for political advantages could very well affect a serious and comprehensive assessment.

We are also most certainly concerned that proffered “solutions” may not be well thought out or how they will impact the lives and livelihood of our members or, indeed, all workers who rely on the industry”, the union said.

It took aim at a proposal by APNU member Anthony Vieira that the problem-plagued Skeldon factory be channelled towards ethanol production.

“We have taken note of what seems to be a contradictory stance taken by APNU’s spokesperson, Mr Anthony Vieira who is now saying: “Actually, we are coming out of cane because even if we are doing ethanol we are not going to be a competitive producer”. We ask: why must we plunge into ethanol which would require capitalization and then back out of it shortly afterwards because it (ethanol) would not be competitive?” GAWU said.

The union also adverted to Vieira’s suggestions that ethanol be combined with aquaculture. GAWU noted that aquaculture was being pursued in the country and asked why should the sugar industry be broken down for this?

“In our public discourse, we should not downplay the fact that even at this time the industry continues to serve our country in a multifaceted way. It employs about 16,000 workers during its peak periods and also facilitates about 1,500 cane farmers. Thus, one way or another, tens of thousands of Guyanese depend on the industry’s operations. It is the nation’s largest net foreign exchange earner and a large proportion of the industry’s multi-billion dollar revenue is circulated locally thus enhancing many business enterprises. Many villages and communities surrounding the sugar estates also benefit from the industry’s expansive drainage network. APNU and others may want to, therefore, review its positions on this question. As an important political entity in our midst we expect its positive approach motivated by the need to make sugar a thriving industry once more”, GAWU said.

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