Speaker rejects AFC bid for sugar industry debate

An attempt yesterday by the Alliance For Change to have the National Assembly debate the state of the sugar industry as a matter of urgent public importance, was rejected by Speaker of House Ralph Ramkarran triggering a walkout by the party.

Prior to this fallout in the National Assembly, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud that GuySuCo will put its troubles behind it next year and achieve a production close to 300,000 tonnes.

AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan, when requesting for the matter to be addressed, sought leave to move the adjournment of the Assembly on definite matters of urgent public importance. The AFC, in a release on Sunday, called for a special, emergency session of Parliament to discuss the fate of sugar, sugar workers and the sugar industry. The release came following the threat by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to de-recognize GAWU, the main union representing sugar workers.

Ramjattan said yesterday that it was necessary for the sugar union to be discussed, stating that a “credible explanation” was needed from the Ministers of Agriculture and Labour of the true state of the sugar industry and its industrial relations. While acknowledging that President Bharrat Jagdeo had intervened and offered the sugar workers a 5% one-off payment, he stated that since this was taxable, the workers would not be benefiting significantly.
He also said that the President’s statement while meeting with the workers was that sugar “is becoming less important in the economy.”

While making his ruling, Ramkarran said that for such an intervention to be made there needed to be a clear emergency where a crisis would have suddenly arisen and not grievances that are continuing.

He said that wage negotiations and an attempt to derecognize the union do not qualify as such crises that would have suddenly arisen.

After, Ramkarran gave his ruling the two AFC members present in the House at the time—Ramjattan and Sheila Holder—left the chambers.

Meanwhile, prior to Ramjattan making his application, Persaud made a presentation to the House in which he underscored the administration’s commitment to the sugar industry. He highlighted several investments that the government had made in recent times to bolster the sugar industry, including the packaging plant at Enmore, which would be able to package some 400,000 tonnes of sugar per annum when completed.

“The workers’ welfare in the sugar industry is paramount to the government,” Persaud said too. “Never under the PPP government would GAWU or any sugar union be derecognized,” he added, even as members of the PNCR-1G loudly questioned why the same standard was not applied to the bauxite union.

Persaud expressed confidence that in 2011 the industry would have a robust year and that GuySuCo will be able to produce close to 300,000 tonnes of sugar.

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