There has to be transition from ailing sugar

-Business Minister tells Berbice Expo

Part of the entertainment

-Raffik calls for deep water harbour

Opening the 13th Berbice Expo and Trade Fair on Friday, Business Minister Dominic Gaskin said there has to be a transition away from the ailing sugar industry and this will bring new opportunities.

He said that he is  aware that the plight of GuySuCo and the sugar industry is of concern in the region. Gaskin told the gathering that the government is very much aware of the role GuySuCo plays within the region and noted that there are many different views about what needs to be done with the sugar corporation. He added that there is a universal recognition that GuySuCo presently places a heavy burden on the Treasury, a burden the country cannot afford.

Gaskin opined that any company whose operating expenses exceed its revenue to the extent that it requires subsidies in the “billions and billions of dollars year after year is in big trouble and needs to be restructured, and cannot be allowed to continue to be a drain”. He added that “Some actions have to be taken to bring an end on this huge annual subsidy”.

The minister said that he is sure that Berbicians would have noticed the amount of “streets that have been paved over the last two years and the number of street lights that have been deployed”, along with the number of drains and canals that have been cleared in the region. “Think of how much more would have been achieved if we didn’t have to bear the cost of this subsidy ever year”, he told those gathered.

He then assured that the present government will not take any action that will harm the region’s economy and cause suffering to its people. He said, there has to be a transition if the country is to reduce its dependence on an industry that is not producing or performing or delivering to the necessary expectations, “… but that transition will see new opportunities for this region also”.

The APNU+AFC government recently advertised for letters of interest in the privatisation/diversifica-  tion of the Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales sugar estates.

In the backdrop of an opening with one of the most diverse and entertaining programmes in the history of regional expositions, Gaskin called on business persons to place much more emphasis on the utilisation of scientifically and technologically advanced methods of production. He told those gathered, to step away from their comfort zones if they wish to be a part of the “transformed economy that is in sight”.

He told the business owners, “Our government is no different, we support our productive sector in a number of ways, technical assistance by agencies such as NAREI, GRDB (etc)” However, according to the minister, it is time for more targeted and strategic  support on a sector by sector basis. “This is what we want to do and how we want to continue our engagement with private sectors”, he said.

Gaskin also spoke of the plan Region Six is said to be drafting to stimulate its economy, which is based on diversifying agriculture in the region. This, he said, was good news for the region, noting that investors would be willing to invest if there is a plan showing where the region is heading. “I’m looking forward to working with this region and its leadership to promote investments, exports, value added activities and cohesion”.

Deep water harbour

Meanwhile, the Presi- dent of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, (CCCC) Mohammed Raffik en- couraged the government to “locate the deep water harbour in Berbice”. He said, “We have a lot of land in Palmyra that is owned by GuySuCo and maybe the government can think about bringing the deep water harbour to Berbice and create an industrial area there, where so many things can happen, companies can come in and store containers and a whole host of other services can derive from the investment of a deep water harbour in Berbice”.

According to Raffik, the future of Berbice lies in agriculture. He said Berbicians need to show investors their potential and will to work, and also be equipped with vast information from studies done on potential ventures.

Raffik, touching on the sugar industry, noted that the government has taken “certain decisions” on GuySuCo. He said based on economics the government cannot be faulted for their decisions because “no businessman would run a business where you’re losing money”.  However, he then stressed, that the government has a responsibility to the people of the country, as such if they are heading towards closing down the sugar industry or any other industry “… there has to be some alternatives”. “At about $6B a year in employment cost, when you look at what money coming out of the community the government is going to receive less taxes, less payments in NIS and a lot of businesses will be affected”, he noted.

He added, “I would like the government to know that they have to understand the social responsibility that they have to the people of Berbice and if they are closing this industry then our people must have some alternatives”. He said more employment must be created in Berbice, adding that students after completing university often opt to head to Georgetown or even leave the country to seek employment.

Raffik then noted that while the chamber itself may not have the finance and expertise, the members are willing to work along with government to further develop the county through agriculture. Raffik stressed that to ensure agricultural development there must be new infrastructure and  lands opened up. Raffik made mention of the proposal for the 33 miles of all-weather road.  He said an all-weather road would benefit the region tremendously. According to the proposal, the road should begin from the Number 58/59 Villages, Corentyne to Canje Creek.

Raffik said that the Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder is still to meet with the chamber in an effort to exchange ideas and build a relationship. Suggesting that the minister must be busy, Raffik said that a junior minister of agriculture might not be such a bad idea. “That junior minister, maybe a young person that person can do some of these things we are talking about”.

Raffik, a contractor,  called on the members of parliament within the region to spend time with the people, so as to assist and properly represent them. He noted that Gobin Harbhajan, the Prime Minister’s Representative in Region Six has been working tremendously for the betterment of the region’s people.” He is doing what I think many members of parliament supposed to be doing, he is doing a good job”.

Raffik also sounded the call for a permanent exhibition site in Berbice. He noted that it cost over $3.5m to construct and replace the necessary materials for the main exhibition shed every year.

Also present at the opening ceremony was the Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Jaipaul Sharma, Regional Chairman, Region Six, David Armogan, along with President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Deodat Indar and several other top officials.