Is GAWU proposing to solve the problems of the sugar industry through resistance?

Dear Editor,

We wish to respond to certain aspects of the letter from Mr Seepaul Narine, the General Secretary for the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) that was published in the Stabroek News of August 31, titled ‘The sugar industry can overcome its present challenges.’ He wrote: “Our union will continue to resist this closure [Wales Estate] and to struggle to protect workers’ interests as well as the general interest of those others who depend on the industry. We repeat our belief that the industry can overcome its present challenges”. In another part he stated that “Dr James Rose, who opened the GAWU’s 21st Congress, reminded us that the industry, throughout its long history, has faced many severe challenges which were overcome through creative and unorthodox thinking”.

The question which GuySuCo is posing to GAWU is, whether its own creative and unorthodox proposal for solving the problems of the sugar industry is through resistance? The cross-cutting theme in most of the resolutions approved by the Congress was ‘resistance’. Here again, GuySuCo would like to reiterate the urgent need for a paradigm shift in the leadership of GAWU.

In order for GuySuCo to become a resilient, sustainable and profitable business, it would require much more than resistance from GAWU and other stakeholders. The creativity and unorthodox approaches, to which Dr Rose alluded, would necessitate the application of sound business, organizational and moral principles. It would require flexibility and adaptability; it would require that our workers know their rights and yet be able to fulfil their responsibilities to the corporation, to which they have contractual obligations; it would require that workers see themselves as key players in the ‘Putting GuySuCo First’ programme; and it would require a highly mobilized GuySuCo community ‒ ‘One GuySuCo’.

The thinking, conversations and actions of GAWU have to shift  and project its leadership as progressive and imaginative thinkers, who can see the wisdom in  participating in and stimulating discussions on the re-configuration of ‘sugar dependent’ communities. So, that even as GuySuCo transitions, these communities will also transition and be re-configured to become more sustainable.

The comment by Mr Narine that, “thus, we find it inconceivable that given these truths, GuySuCo and the government are bent on pursuing their decision concerning the closure of Wales Estate. For the communities around Wales Estate the social vibrancy may soon be replaced by gloom and unimaginable hardship for the residents. We again urge that this unfortunate and short-sighted decision be reversed”.

Editor, this is a very sterile leadership posture when the world around us is changing, the ‘world of sugar’ is changing, GuySuCo has recognized that while it cannot avoid or prevent these changes from happening, it has to be able to  anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to the change in order to survive and be sustainable.

As GuySuCo continues to strategize to transform the corporation into a profitable business, it is imperative that stakeholders like GAWU begin to think more critically and broadly about making the economies of ‘sugar dependent’ communities more diversified and sustainable. These communities have to expand beyond dependence on the sugar industry and also see the diversification programme as an opportunity, instead of a challenge.

It is important that GAWU understands that the Wales Estate is not closing; it is transitioning from sugar production to other ventures. It is disappointing that the leadership of GAWU is already predicting “gloom and unimaginable hardship for the residents” when the diversification programme has not even been implemented.

GuySuCo is cognizant that change is never easy and can be very challenging, but the current circumstances of the corporation have created a remarkable opportunity for it and communities to emerge with greater economic and social balance. The conversation about GuySuCo has to progress to include developing sustainable communities and enterprises.

GuySuCo cannot become a profitable business enterprise by only focusing on sugar as its core business; the configuration of GuySuCo will be changed to include aquaculture, fruit crops and  livestock and dairy farming, and  it is expected that the economic activities and flow of ‘sugar dependent’  communities will also be adjusted. The diversification programme will create new opportunities for communities to explore and exploit.

The situation in which the corporation has found itself, has unearthed a fundamental flaw in the development programme for communities around sugar estates. The development programme to a large extent did not focus on building resilient and sustainable enterprises into these communities; therefore as the vulnerability of GuySuCo increases these communities also become vulnerable. It means therefore that as GuySuCo transforms into the ‘New GuySuCo’, those responsible for developing these communities, have to design strategies and programmes which will make these communities less vulnerable. In other words GuySuCo was carrying a development burden which should not have been attached to the corporation. Hence, this flawed approach has to be remedied. As such when Mr Narine indicated in his letter that “for the communities around Wales Estate the social vibrancy may soon be replaced by gloom and unimaginable hardship for the residents”, this reinforces the need for a more diversified approach to the development of these communities in order to correct this flaw.

Nevertheless, GuySuCo believes that this is an appropriate point for related agencies, stakeholders such as GAWU and communities to commence or strengthen discussions and programmes on what are the preferred growth areas. This will allow for communities to adopt values, opportunities, skills and expertise to determine the most beneficial aspects for sustained growth.

These engagements should also examine the fiscal and economic health of these communities; and an evaluation should be done on how to get better economic results from tapping into the ventures with GuySuCo as well as new private and other developments.

Another area for discussion should be the development of strategies for land use; for example, around the Wales Estate, thus a part of the strategic conversation should be to incorporate the review on the use of land.

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

Senior Communications Officer

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