Retreat to discuss sugar inquiry report held again without President

The second retreat to discuss the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry went ahead yesterday in the absence of President David Granger and several other ministers.

Stabroek News understands that the meeting was held at the Agriculture Ministry, but owing to the long parliamentary session on Thursday several ministers were not in attendance.

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson attended along with GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer Errol Hanoman and Chairman Dr Clive Thomas. On Thursday, Thomas had told Stabroek News that he would be expanding on the particulars of his report.

He had said that he would most likely expand on developmental strategies such as independent revenue schemes with a focus on land sales and molasses among other value-added production.

This is the second retreat sans the President.

During a recording of Ministry of the Presidency’s programme `The Public Interest’ on December 11, the President had said “I don’t want to pre-empt what the cabinet is going to do. We still have to have a retreat [and] unfortunately because of a series of international meetings, culminating with the meeting in Paris, several important ministers… were out of the country…”

The need for another retreat represented a further delay in taking a decision on the way forward for the troubled sugar industry.

The initial report was to be presented on September 30, however this was postponed and a report was presented to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder on October 19.

He later referred to the document as a “preliminary report.”

After two weeks, Holder revealed that a retreat was planned for November 28 aimed at familiarising members of cabinet with the findings. The retreat came and went without any word from the government.

It was later revealed by Chairman of the CoI Vibert Parvatan that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had declared that more dialogue may be necessary.

Holder had told Stabroek News that after the November 28 retreat cabinet was expected to make a decision on the sugar industry come December 1.

During the recording of the programme last week Friday, Granger said, “There has to be change in the sugar industry but it is very important in terms of employment, in terms of the linkages with other products, for example molasses and rum and in terms of the whole structure of our economy. I don’t think that we can do without sugar so it is not an easy decision that we can just shut down the entire industry and I don’t think that that is something that is going to happen.”

He also stated, “Once we decide that we are going to maintain the sugar industry or maintain a part of the sugar industry or privatize a part…maybe the field part could be privatized to individual farmers. I don’t want to predict what is going to happen.”

The government has not released the findings of the CoI to the public.

The commissioner who represented the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on the CoI was not at yesterday’s retreat. This publication was made to understand that some commissioners were not formally told.

GAWU President Komal Chand had told Stabroek News that the tension between the union and GuySuCo was palpable and heavily influenced by the report’s contents remaining at cabinet level.

“We participated in the work of the commission. We feel… the delay, the procrastination; it is too important to have this report still embargoed. The commission’s work and what it solved: we will only know when we see the full report,” Chand stated.

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