When the government made the earth-shattering announcement on January 18, 2016, that cane operations at the Wales estate would end on December 31, 2016 it sugar-coated the announcement with a number of promises to find gainful employment for the hundreds who would have to be retrenched and to extend a lifeline to the community which faced grave jeopardy.
More than 17 months after those promises, there has been absolute failure to deliver on any of those pledges. There is meant to be a seed paddy project somewhere in the verdant fields of Wales but the public – and more importantly the people of the community – are completely unaware of its fortunes and likely impact on them.
It would mean that the Ministry of Agriculture, the board and management of GuySuCo and most of all, President Granger have failed to deliver on this solemn promise to the people of Wales. Given the recent fate of Minister Roopnaraine, there should have been multiple reassignments or at least some serious, urgent examination of why the government and GuySuCo have been derelict in delivery on their promises.
In the meanwhile, the toll on former cane harvesters, vendors in the community and housewives has been enormous as Stabroek News has found out during visits to the community. There is a recognition in Wales of the dire situation the industry is in but at the same time residents want an opportunity to do something for themselves and are holding on to the promises made by the government.
The failure to deliver results thus far may be due to the fact that the plans conceived by the mandarins of government and GuySuCo were doomed from the beginning. Peasant cane farming, aquaculture and vague references to alcohol production did not inspire confidence. Whenever the present decision-makers speak of sugar diversification, the disastrous experience of GuySuCo in the 80s instantly comes to mind, the dairy factory being one of the most egregious examples. To make matters worse, several of those linked to the failed schemes are in the precincts of the current discussions and the talk of diversification appears as directionless and without any basis in reality as it was in the 80s.
False hope has been woven for the people of Wales. October, 2016 was meant to be the start of several of the diversified operations mooted by GuySuCo. Approaching nine months later, there is no visible sign of anything happening. A blithe promise of land for the ex workers of the sugar estate remains just as elusive. This failure will have to be taken as evidence that the government and GuySuCo lack the requisite capacity to manage onerous mandates and deliver results.
The larger fallout from the failure of the Wales promises is the real and psychological impact it will have on other parts of the industry that are under threat. Factories at Enmore and Rose Hall are to be shuttered and canes from their cultivations are to be redirected. The Skeldon estate is to be privatised. These sweeping changes can impact thousands of workers, their families and community busineses. Stakeholders from Enmore and Rose Hall would be alarmed and in despair at the failed promises at Wales and would be extremely leery of commitments to ease the impact of the imminent dislocation.
It is evident that the scale of the sugar problem has defeated the government and that it has few answers on the dire impact that will be visited upon communities.
On May 28th, the Private Sector Commission and its many affiliates called on the government to stay plans to close sugar factories, while offering their “considerable experience” to explore options to sustain the sugar industry. It behoves the government to sit down with the PSC and other stakeholders such as workers, the sugar unions and the opposition to craft a better plan for the industry rather than leaving entire communities at grave risk.