Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo hopes that government’s proposed national budget, which will be presented to the National Assembly next Monday, would provide clarity about the diversification plans for the beleaguered Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
At a press conference at Freedom House on Thursday, Jagdeo said he wants help for the sugar industry and “a clearly defined plan” on how the government intends to move forward.
He added that government needs to provide information on the options for diversification, including identifying who has done the studies, the economic viability of alternatives and plans for the social consequences of any decisions.
“We are yet to hear all of this…,” he noted.
Jagdeo also mentioned that there has been a lot of talk about the Skeldon estate and “that pockets of people are negotiating private deals….”
According to him, two government ministers and other government officials have “visited a particular major sugar company abroad and talking to them… about buying the Skeldon Estate. They have even started talking price.”
“From information that we have, if the company gets it at that price, there will be huge beneficiaries of private arrangements and we need to watch this; that the government may very well have identified the individuals or companies to take over these things that will be generous to them,” he added.
Chairman of GuySuCo Board, Dr Clive Thomas had told Stabroek News in a previous interview that they have already spoken to potential buyers and are awaiting the go ahead from government to continue the discussions.
He had said too that selling the estate is one of the options the Board has but its members have also made other proposals to Cabinet and are awaiting a decision.
With regard to the option for diversification, Thomas said, “Basically what we are trying to do is to diversify to consolidate the production of sugar,” for the higher-priced local, Caricom and US markets.
Jagdeo, responding to a question about the possible loss of jobs with the closure of the estate and the diversification not being able to provide sufficient employment, said, “The whole issue about what the government would do” in relation “to the sugar sector, is shrouded in secrecy.”
“We get snippets of the government from interviews and occasional public statements and press conferences. But we are not sure about what the decisions will be or if decisions have been made,” he lamented.
He added that what the opposition has been hearing has caused a lot of worry, including to the people who depend on GuySuCo for a livelihood.
Taking sugar down in Berbice, he said, would affect people from Mara, East Bank Berbice, all the way to Crabwood Creek, “because the disposable income would shrink.”
Meanwhile, Jagdeo wished Minister of Finance Winston Jordan well and hoped that the budget would see measures in place to “address the problems that will enhance social welfare, increase public safety and improve livelihoods by the creation of jobs and income for people.”
He promised to support any measure that achieves any of those objectives. He, however, believes that the framework for the budget has already been established in President David Granger’s address to the National Assembly in October.
He hoped that what the president said in his speech would be further elaborated on in the budget and that they would see concrete specific policies, programmes and projects to give effects to the objectives that he outlined.
Jagdeo pointed out that the president said they have a green agenda or a green state and they expect that it is the overriding framework within which his government would pursue national development.
Jagdeo, however, did call for the $10,000 education grant for school children and the utility subsidies for pensioners, previously offered under the former PPP/C government, to be restored.