A condition of growing uncertainty over the future of the Skeldon Sugar Estate has created an uneasy atmosphere of uncertainty at various levels in communities in the Upper Corentyne and particularly among sugar workers’ families, according to President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce Krishnand Jaichand.
He is therefore calling on Agriculture Minister Noel Holder and the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to engage the community as a matter of urgency, lest the situation grows even worse.
Speaking with Stabroek Business late on Wednesday evening, Jaichand said what had already been a worrying situation arising out of likely job losses should the closure of the Skeldon Sugar Estate become a reality has been made worse by the failure of “the powers that be” to communicate with the various interest groups, including the workers, cane farmers and businessmen and women in the community, all of whom have a vested in the future of the Skeldon estate. “It is no secret that much of the Upper Corentyne revolves around sugar and specifically around the Skeldon Estate. It is worrisome that we are being told nothing,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Upper Corentyne Chamber released a media statement in which it charged that both GuySuCo and the Government of Guyana “have allowed hearsay, rumour and innuendo” about the likely eventual fate of the Skeldon Estate to persist. The statement said that reports about “the impending sale of the estate,” including the factory, had to be balanced against the fact that sugar is, by far “our largest employer and accounts for a major portion of economic activity with multiplier spinoffs, dictating growth or decline of the local economy, any change with the current setups is bound to have far-reaching social and economic impacts in our area.”
With regard to the fate of the Skeldon estate which has been at the centre of the wider national discourse on the future of the sugar industry, Jaichand said that what both the workers and the business community were seeking was “direct and meaningful involvement in the discourse so that the community as a whole can at least have an understanding of how the situation has been evolving from day to day.” While it does not appear that there has been any direct communication between the business community and either the Minister of Agriculture or GuySuCo over the future of the Skeldon Estate, Jaichand said the Chamber has been seeking to establish a line of communication through its umbrella body, the Private Sector Commission (PSC). The outcome of those efforts, it appears, have not been successful.
The Upper Corentyne Chamber’s Wednesday statement says that whether, in relation to the Skeldon Estate, change “may or may not be necessary…, we wish to remind all the powers that be that, as being in the frontline we should be involved in all of the deliberations and the negotiations where this change is to be effected.” The Chamber statement added that “the changes thought of now can best be accommodated by acceptance, recognition of needs and by the inclusion and participatory negotiations of all parties concerned.” Charging that where the ongoing negotiations are concerned the Upper Corentyne stakeholders are involved only at the level of “hearsay,” the statement called for a change in what the Upper Corentyne Chamber says it sees as the prevailing status quo. “This is definitely not how it should be. We too are Guyanese stakeholders in this entity… We are involved.”
Jaichand, who is due to be sworn in as Mayor of Corriverton shortly, after being elected at the recent mayoral elections told Stabroek Business that the situation at Skeldon had created “a deep and disturbing anxiety” at various levels in the Upper Corentyne Community and that there was now an urgent need to fill what he said was the existing information void.