The commencement of engagement among stakeholders ‒ government, Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), opposition and trade unions ‒ with a view to determine a way forward for GuySuCo, as an organisation, is a first for this society since Article 13 was enshrined in the Guyana Constitution, via a constitutional amendment in 2001.
Article 13 identifies the principal objective of the political system, requiring of us as Guyanese to engage in inclusionary democracy, where individuals and groups would be involved in the management and decision-making processes of the state that impact their well-being. This principle was valiantly fought for by citizens/workers under the leadership of Desmond Hoyte, then Leader of the Opposition.
The present engagement sees a composition where the government’s team is headed by Vice President and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, the opposition by General Secretary Clement Rohee, the trade unions by GAWU President Komal Chand and NAACIE General Secretary Kenneth Joseph, and executives of GuySuCo.
The bittersweet history and legacy of sugar run in the veins of every Guyanese, bar none. Though this industry is often addressed in a partisan manner, political and otherwise, on this occasion all the groups are urged to leave divisive motives outside the door where the engagements are taking place. The future of sugar is not about negotiating or horse trading (ie, where you take one, I take one), it is about finding common ground as to the future of GuySuCo.
Common ground has to factor in evidence such as the input of technical expertise, inclusive of the body of work on the industry by Professor Clive Thomas; the Commission of Inquiry Report on GuySuCo; the corporate services GuySuCo provides via drainage and irrigation on the coastland, health centres, and community grounds; the Consolidated Fund; global price; reconfiguration of the industry; contribution of private cane framers; and social impact for sugar workers and the society.
This country in 2017 is poised, based on the interaction of the stakeholders on sugar on the last day in 2016, to prove that diverse views and skills can be brought to bear in charting a course, not only for sugar, but for every other area of governance.
Coming from the bauxite industry where during 2001-05 similar calls were made to the government to have stakeholders’ engagement in determining the future of the industry that were ignored, I am nonetheless encouraged that sugar is being used as a catalyst to bring about a change in our divisive political culture.
Sugar belongs to every Guyanese and what is required is a national consensus in determining its future. It is not lost on me that sitting around the same table there may be persons inclined to look at this new beginning as an opportunity to stymie every effort in developing a cohesive position. Sugar must no longer be treated as a partisan issue in creating political fodder. One of the ways this can be avoided is that the consensus that emerges from the discussion on each day be initialled by all the leaders in the stakeholders’ configuration.