Scaling down the sugar industry

The pragmatism associated with the decision to significantly scale down the size of a sugar industry which has become a significant financial strain on the rest of the economy and on the country as a whole cannot gainsay the hardships at individual, family and community levels that will accrue from the alarming levels of job losses, some of which have already been announced. What needs to be acknowledged in the instance of the sugar industry is, first, that to persist in the prevarication that has preceded the eventual decision on the future of the industry would have been patently unwise, given what we are aware was the extent of the subsidy that it was taking just to keep the corporation standing on decidedly shaky legs. The second and by no means trivial consideration are the consequences of scaling back the sector, not least the obligation now accruing to those workers whose jobs stand imperiled.  

It makes little sense – given what we know of our political culture – to wish and hope that the travails of the sugar industry will not continue to be a matter of political controversy. That is just the nature of the beast though the loaded suggestions coming from some quarters that the travails of sugar do not reflect the painful reality but are in fact, a spiteful political contrivance, is surely taking it too far. It surely strains credulity to think that sheer political malice could cause the political administration to ‘call time’ on the sugar industry for no good reason in circumstances where it is bound to be faced with a political backlash the scale of which would be difficult to stomach.

 The problem is, of course, that the winding down of the sugar industry is taking place in a particularly contentious political climate and, as well, against the backdrop of a militant trade union that recognizes that the scaling back of sugar could impact negatively on its own influence. The other regrettably unpalatable reality is that the problems in the sugar industry will – whether we like it or not – have a polarizing effect on the society, though the extent of that polarization is unclear at this time.

 In word, at least, the Finance Minister has given some reassuring commitments regarding government’s commitment to sugar and to sugar workers beyond this difficult period. He alludes to what he says is government’s “intensified focus on diversification and value-added production in the non-sugar agriculture sector” a development which he treats with “as the sugar industry continues to undergo restructuring.” There is also a measure of reassurance in the Finance Minister’s statement that “government intends to uphold its duty to the communities and families in the areas affected by divestment as part of GuySuCo’s divestment” which can be taken to mean that it will shoulder some of the responsibility for the well-being of the affected individuals, families and communities through (presumably among other things) “a skills training programme” and beyond which “the government will assume responsibility for social services, including health centres and community centre grounds……..critical drainage and irrigation services for areas affected by divestment.”

These are weighty commitments but nothing more than the displaced sugar workers and their families ought reasonably to expect. All of this, however, is likely to take place in a somewhat charged political environment and it would be to the  administration’s advantage to implement its promises particularly those relating to skills retraining and the reconfiguring of the remaining estates as expeditiously since delays in these areas will almost certainly give rise to more political rumblings. 

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