Cabinet agrees sugar bailout

-first tranche to be $3.8b

From right are GAWU International Secretary Aslim Singh, President of FITUG, Carvil Duncan, Minister in the Ministry of Social Protection Simona Broomes, Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and TUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis.A section of the gathering

Cabinet has made a decision to bail out the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) with a first tranche of $3.8B, sources say, and will be proceeding with the Commission of Inquiry into the industry as well as a forensic audit of the corporation.

News of the bailout was delivered yesterday at the annual Enmore Martyrs commemoration event at Enmore by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo though he did not identify a figure.

Nagamootoo stated that President David Granger was not in attendance at the commemoration yesterday because the bailout decision was still being finalized. He said a “decision to give billions, to find the money to bail the sugar industry out is a decision we had to make today that is why he is not here.”

Nagamootoo stated that today the government will be seeking an audience with the Ambassador to the European Union (EU) Robert Kopecky on the way forward as it relates to sugar assistance. The EU has provided a large amount of assistance to the industry over the years as part of adjustment measures but critics have said it has not resulted in improvements. Nagamootoo said that the government has also spoken with delegations from Cuba and India which have already indicated their willingness to offer assistance. Nagamootoo did not delve into whether the assistance would be financial in nature.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the forensic audit of the sugar corporation while taking aim at the main sugar union GAWU. “We ordered a forensic audit into where all this money went and I say it here that I was also surprised, I was shocked that when Mr Raj Singh (former CEO of GuySuCo) was sent packing that the leaders of GAWU said they were very disturbed by that. They were not disturbed by the billions of dollars that went down the drain, they were disturbed when we told Raj Singh to go”. On June 3rd Singh was dismissed as CEO and the entire GuySuCo board was asked to tender their resignations while an Interim Management Committee headed by former CEO’s Errol Hanoman and Paul Bhim was installed pending a Commission of Inquiry.

The sugar industry was brought to the brink a few days after the new government was sworn in when Singh said that if there was no immediate financing all of the estates and factories would have to shut down. He had been seeking a bailout of $16b. His announcement had caused surprise as there was no similar warning during the life of the former PPP/C administration.

Nagamootoo didn’t hold back when he said that the corporation couldn’t account for millions in unpaid workers’ savings. The GAWU Credit Union had recently revealed that over $154M in workers’ savings had not been paid to the credit union by the corporation. Stabroek News was informed that yesterday over 325 workers went to the credit union seeking their savings.

“We gave $17B from Parliament, voted $17B (over several years) to bail out the industry. Every year we were voting money and we asked how much of that went to sugar workers. We were never given an answer so we felt quite rightly that the management and the board should be fired and we fired them,” Nagamootoo said.

As he spoke about the billions that were voted for GuySuCo in the National Assembly with no accountability for it, those in attendance began to cheer loudly.

He called on Aslim Singh, GAWU’s International Affairs Secretary to relay to the union that they needed to also be a part of the solution in rectifying the damage done to the industry. GAWU’s representation at the ceremony was low key compared to years prior when its President, Komal Chand would address the crowd.

Nagamootoo said that the financial audit would be necessary to account for the billions in EU sugar assistance that had been unaccounted for. He said of the EU “They have helped in the past and up to this day we cannot be given an account where all the money Europe gave us where the money went, where has the money gone.”

Chand has in the past pressed for the corporation to provide clear accounting for over $31B given in sugar assistance from EU as part of the accompanying measures.

The Prime Minister garnered more cheers when he stated that the “PPP can hate this government, but it must not destroy sugar and the sugar industry…talk to us how to make the industry survive”. Nagamootoo also accused the PPP, which held office for 23 years of turning the industry upside down. He said that over $47B was spent on the Skeldon Sugar Factory without accounting for where the money went, how it was spent. The Skeldon sugar factory has been a major drain on the resources of the heavily-indebted GuySuCo. The Chinese-built factory has produced nowhere near to capacity and has encountered numerous problems.

Nagamootoo promised more cohesive integration of workers in the process of sugar reform stating that comprehensive talks will commence. He noted that the Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder had already met with NAACIE on Monday to assure that workers and unions were to be recognized as stakeholders.

Nagamootoo promised the government’s support to the sugar industry through the respect of workers’ rights and by assuring healthy and safe working practices. He said that protection of trade unions was critical to creating development and sustainability.

In his remarks at the ceremony, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis said that following the general elections, it is time that central government work with the regions, inclusive of those won by the PPP in ensuring programmes to meet the people’s respective needs and aspirations.

He added that the results of the 2015 elections have indicated that the PPP’s place is to take the seats on the Opposition side in the National Assembly.

“Their present role is to constructively propose, oppose, support and keep the Executive accountable based on the constitution, laws, international charters and time-honoured principles. The PPP is called on to fulfil its responsibility to its supporters and society. Democracy works better when the system of checks and balance is functioning”, he stated.

Turning to the sugar industry, he said it belongs to the people of the country and its present state requires non-partisan action at the parliamentary level.

“This nation cannot wait another six months for ‘new’ findings through a Commission of Inquiry that would invariably confirm what is already known, while billions of taxpayers’ money are being pumped into this ailing institution at the expense of improving health, education, other needed infrastructures and the working conditions of public servants and teachers”, Lewis declared.

He said that the TUC believes that sugar must be tackled in a holistic manner taking into consideration the International Labour Organisation’s Core Labour Standards and the laws of the land.

The rainy weather did not stop persons from attending the ceremony which commemorates the industrial action and subsequent killing of five sugar workers on June 16, 1948. The monument was unveiled on June 16, 1977 and annually wreaths are laid at the site in remembrance.

On Monday the PPP held its own commemoration at the monument.

 

 

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