Government had premeditated to dispose of the sugar industry long before it made public that consultations would be held to save it and this information is evidence and testimony that nothing it says about the state of sugar should be trusted, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says.
Making an over one-hour address, at an event to remember the Enmore Martyrs, at Enmore, East Coast Demerara yesterday, Jagdeo flayed the APNU+AFC government for its attitude towards the sugar industry here.
He focused his appeal to workers of the Enmore Sugar Estate, one of the estates proposed to be closed, telling them that a decision to leave them without work was made long before proposed consultations and a parliamentary white paper presented. He told them to be aware that this year would be the last year that they would be celebrating the rise of the Enmore Martyrs at the estate because it will be closed.
“The Guyana Government hereby authorizes Mr. Brian Wesley Kirton to engage in discussions on its behalf with interested companies/parties regarding their possible interest in acquiring the Guyana Sugar Corporation in whole or in part, to facilitate the arrangement for negotiations between the govnerment and interested companies/ parties…,” Jagdeo read from an authorization document, signed by Minister of State Joseph Harmon in November 2016.
“When they started this show of perfunctory; that they were listening to GAWU and us…they had already made the decision to sell the entire industry out. This exposes the duplicity of this government. It came into government with a notion, despite saying they will save the industry, they had a notion that they had to dismantle the sugar industry regardless of the consequences for Guyana and the workers of the industry…when they invited us to the cursory consultations, on the 31st of December (2016) and then they called us in February and invited us to another meeting, this authorization was issued before…,” he added.
He said no mention is made by government of what will happen to the 10,000-plus employees of GuySuCo but that it could not as it had no sound plan for the economic future for the country or of sugar workers.
As he held up the letter, Jagdeo said that he was confident that the sugar industry could be saved and if government did not have the mindset spelled out in the document it could have already started the path to recovery of the industry.
“We have been growing sugar for 200 years and not even under (Forbes) Burnham (we had this) and they have decided to dismantle sugar. And for those who believe that this was a well thought out decision not motivated by politics and they were not inclined to listen to reason and analysis on whether this industry could work or not… we had this ,” he said as he listed the closure of Wales, proposed closure of Skeldon and other plans for the sector.
“Sugar can be saved. From 1976 to 1996 it made a huge contribution to the economy of this country… The European Union gave us over €100M, as part of the transitional agreement. If we use that alone that is more that the cost of the whole Skeldon factory. So it is not true that sugar cannot be saved, cannot be restored in the future. If we work very hard and look at the multidimensional way that sugar contributes …if we look, we will see, through an economic analysis… that sugar makes a contribution more than the subsidy it gets.
Jagdeo and his two administrations have been faulted for not taking urgent and radical steps to rescue the sugar industry.
Jagdeo told sugar workers yesterday that while he wanted to bring a message of bright prospects for them and by extension the country, the reality was that it would only get worse and they needed to prepare for that time.
“Every single time we were in government we had a positive attitude for the future. We will come and talk about our plans for the future. When I come here tonight the only message I can bring to you is a sad message that it is going to get significantly worse in your lives and the lives of Guyanese. You will see not only deterioration, in terms of cost of living going up, but less jobs for the future also because no one wants to invest in this country,” he stressed.
Using protests against the controversial parking meters deal as an example, the Opposition Leader issued a general call for the populace to unite in making their disapproval of the sugar estates’ closing known since “today it might be sugar but tomorrow your job”.
“We have to fight for our rights… look at the parking meter issue …we need the same spirit across Guyana. We must stand up for our rights. If we allow them to snatch this,” he asserted as he called on parents to stand up now so that their children would have a better tomorrow. “We live in the type of country we fight for everything,” he said.
The Opposition Leader told attendees to be wary when government tries to persuade them that they are doing what was best for the sugar industry and that revenue from the oil and gas sector will cushion their struggles.
He pointed to government’s plans for development in the Berbice, another area where many sugar workers live, saying it was all “a fallacy”.
“I want to wager you because it is all hype and nothing else. Nothing will happen at Crab Island (where the government wants to build an oil and gas facility). So the people they are promising …those people will be fooled because they will be living on dreams. These people have no credibility. They have deteriorated this country that they have no credibility,” he stated.