Until this nation is prepared to have open and frank conversations on race in the quest for equality and national development, the self-serving and opportunistic in our midst will continue to manipulate our differences to the detriment of all. For years discussions relating to the sugar industry were something many felt had to be tiptoed around for fear of offending a race and being called racists by the PPP. This fear has seen an industry, though primarily developed by the two major races and creating a unified history, being hijacked for divisive purposes. Persons are being made to feel GuySuCo is a sacred cow, the exclusive property of the PPP, when sugar from its inception has played a major role in this nation’s formation and development. From the unpaid African enslaved workers, the underpaid African and Indian indentured workers, to the present workers, sugar has been built on the sweat, blood, tears and gross exploitation of the two major races. Other races too have made contributions. Sugar’s history and legacy must therefore be the proud ownership of every Guyanese, and its present crisis equally of concern.
All have historically invested and continue to invest in this industry. Within recent years a part of this investment has been through taxpayers’ loans and subventions to keep the spluttering industry afloat. The government continues to plunder the Consolidated Fund to divert money to this industry, mismanaging it through lack of proper planning and to reward the politically aligned and managerial incompetent with super salaries. Calls, evidence and recommendations in the public domain are being ignored and dismissed as efforts to attack or deny a race. This provides the government cover for ignoring the clear and present danger that has arisen from its failure to ensure an efficient industry and assure the economic livelihood of those who would be affected, and the nation as a whole.
Our post slavery/indentureship economy has seen the races gravitating to different sectors. While some recognise and respect this right to choice others have used this to deem one group lazy and the other hardworking. The ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ workers are used as wedge in a backward politics and exploited to the hilt by a self-serving and anti-working class government. It is this belief that would see the government in 2013 boldly expressing the view that public servants are paid enough and ignored their calls to have their right to collective bargaining respected. This belief guides the government’s policy of underinvestment and underpaying workers in the disciplined forces even as it expects the delivery of optimum services. This belief would see the government’s continued denial of workers’ right to a union of choice and addressing the grievances of an African dominated workforce in the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) even as it consistently acts to address sugar workers’ grievances and respect their right to a union of choice. This open display of divisive politics and disrespect for some workers emboldened the self-serving African Empowerment Advisor to accuse the opposition of engaging in “ethnic cleansing.” This accusation was intended to avoid tying accountability and submission of a plan to the approval of a $6B subvention to GuySuCo. The demand for accountability and a plan are guarantees for the sugar workers’ wellbeing. The only group to be affected by this would be the government which feels it does not have to account for spending the people’s money and managing the people’s business. Clutching at regressive behaviours to continue the incompetent management of the nation’s resources/institutions is a disservice to workers.
The political exploitation of sugar workers continues daily. To observe an Indian dominated crowd singling out for accusation and entreaty Rupert Roopnaraine, Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan – members of the joint opposition – to approve the subvention is a rank and crude appeal to race and should be of concern to all. It is disrespectful to use supporters in this manner to divert attention from the demands made for accountability and efficient management in the industry which are crucial to ensuring sugar workers’ livelihood. The opposition and civil society’s positions are similar to that publicly made known by GAWU, its President and PPP MP Komal Chand. Proposals for prudent investment in the industry, accompanied with an objective plan have been the unified call for years, which the government continues to ignore.
The PPP is not interested in the viability of the sugar industry. The party’s interest in the industry is for acquiring political support from sugar workers and the adjoining communities at election time. Were the government interested in the industry’s financial and economic viability, by now there would have been a national studied response to the crisis. The opposition is called upon to forthwith examine their own, civil society and GAWU’s positions and hold the government accountable in the National Assembly. Present this nation and the sugar workers with opportunities to see who is working in their interest and who is exploiting them. Time must be made in the National Assembly to give sugar the singular and laser beam attention it needs.