Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday contended that the results of a feasibility study into the sugar industry would differ from what the government is telling the citizens of the country, that is that the sugar industry is no longer profitable.
Jagdeo told hundreds of Berbicians at a public meeting which was held in Adelphi Village, East Canje that a feasibility, diversification and social impact study is necessary at this point in time. “If you look at a feasibility study for sugar, you will see the contribution that sugar makes to gross domestic product, the contribution to foreign currency earnings and foreign currency stability, the taxes that sugar workers pay, the sum of money they spend on drainage and irrigation, the linkages with other sectors in the communities, that the subsidies that we give now transitionally for a short period to sugar would be far less than the contribution of sugar to the economy”, said Jagdeo. He continued, “… But they will not do that study because if they do that study it will disprove all that they are saying that sugar is not profitable”.
According to the former president, if the government of the day is genuinely concerned about the nation’s people, they would opt to conduct the study. “If they were genuinely concerned they would do a diversification study, they would look at a social impact study to say how are we going to find alternative jobs for the 10,000 people who are going to lose their jobs at the end of the year”. He stressed, that the government should not make a decision that will drastically affect the lives of 17,000 people, and cost 10,000 of them to lose their jobs based on four years of profit and loss statements for an industry of such a nature.
He then stated, that no study will be carried out, since he claims, that the government is set on closing down sugar factories. “The whole charade, the scam about wanting to consult with people, like they did on the 31 December, they invited the PPP/c to talk and make suggestions, they had already decided long ago”.
He opined that the sugar workers “march and protest” would fall on “deaf ears”, but this should not stop the workers from taking to the streets to voice their concerns. “We have to be on the streets in this country to show them that we will not allow them to take us anything sitting down”, noted Jagdeo.
Touching on the Skeldon Sugar Factory, Jagdeo noted, that it was stated that the Co-generation Plant supplies 90,000 persons with power, and that if the Skeldon Corporation is to be closed, the entire Berbice would go into darkness. He further said, that it was also stated, that the Co-gen is profitable, and that billions of dollars was made from selling electricity to the Guyana Power and Light Inc. Jagdeo then questioned, “When they privatize it who will make the billions?”.
He further spoke on the debt situation that government is claiming GuySuCo is presently facing. He pointed out, that the government has said, that GuySuCo has some $86 B in debt, and that they cannot “find the money to put in the industry, it is pension liabilities, it is long term debt that the government is paying back and it is liabilities to GRA (Guyana Revenue Authority”. He asked, “If they can write off $80 B for Banks and DDL, why can’t they give sugar $8 B a year for ten years?, that would be $80 B, why they can’t write it off for GuySuCo?”. He further pointed out other areas, where the government is making investments, instead of even considering subsiding the sugar industry, which thousands of persons depend on for their livelihood.
Jagdeo told the workers present, that if the government follows through on its plan and is successful in closing down more sugar factories and privatizing the Skeldon Factory, leaving thousands jobless. that whenever his party is to take back office, he promises to ensure that each of those worker is provided with a job.
Also present at the meeting was Seepaul Narine, GAWU’s General Secretary, who spoke of the hardships that would fall on sugar workers and their families, if the plans in the White Paper, which was presented by government to parliament is to be implemented. He stressed, that the Rose Hall Estate has the adequate amount of workers to make the estate one of the leading estates in the industry, while noting, that there is also a large sum of land available to the estate.
It was also highlighted at the meeting that if the Rose Hall Estate is to be closed, the Canje, New Amsterdam, Corentyne area would be affected drastically. It was pointed out also, that thousands of persons, who would become unemployed due to the closure might most likely turn to suicide or a life of crime due to frustration.
The workers are pleading with the government to reconsider their decision, or provide alternative jobs for the workers who would be affected.
A number of PPP/c regional officials were also present at the community meeting. A march which was held before the meeting began from Cumberland Village and concluded at the Adelphi Market Square.