The current discussion on the sugar industry vis-à-vis the bauxite industry being conducted by the PPP/C is deserving of context. The issue of a levy (ie tax to the state) was applied to sugar and bauxite and came into effect before the Reynolds Bauxite Company in Berbice and the sugar companies (Bookers and Demerara Company) were nationalised. These acts were taken as a major plank in the nation’s developmental thrust towards taking control of its economic destiny. Jamaica, under the leadership of Michael Manley, applied a similar levy to both industries, preceding Guyana in this regard.
The effort to make a case that sugar was discriminated against by placing a levy is mischievous. Politicians need to be told that they must stop making out a case for the future of sugar grounded on partisan premises. The sugar industry belongs to Guyanese, where the initial foundation such as the canals, roadways, farmland, and revenues were built, prepared, cultivated and earned by free labour from the African community, which went on for centuries.
The claim that in the 1980s the state spent billions on the bauxite industry failed to advise that a levy was also applied to bauxite. In claiming discrimination or preferential treatment of a section of workers against another, the society is being advised that in the early 1990s under the PNC government both Linmine and GuySuCo were placed under contract management with the intent of privatising.
In 1992 Guymine produced in excess of 480,000 tonnes of bauxite. On the assumption of the PPP/C to office in October 1992 the Linmine production level was cut for the following year to 250,000 tonnes. This deliberate decision to drastically reduce production was communicated to the bauxite unions by Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who also advised that jobs will be cut.
Clearly here it was not a case where bauxite had a production problem but a deliberate decision taken by the government to reduce production and lay off workers. The decision to reduce production led to the loss of markets, as customary buyers had to go elsewhere to meet their demands. The government made its position very clear that bauxite will be privatised and sugar will remain a state entity.
The sugar and bauxite industries cannot only be looked at within the context of ethnicity and political persuasion. The approach needs to be holistic as to what each means to the country and particularly the communities within which they exist. It was not the community of Linden or the opposition PNC at the time that privatised the steam power plant that provided cheap energy to the people and bauxite operation. It was the PPP/C government.
In privatising the bauxite company in Linden the PPP/C government refused to listen to legitimate concerns and pleas by the workers, residents, unions, then PNC opposition, and others. In the years of negotiating benefits for workers unseen wages are also factored in. In the instance of bauxite workers this included electricity and water. When the PPP/C government took away the cheap reliable supply, concomitantly government shoulders the responsibility to ensure the service is provided.
There was agreement between the unions and state-owned company that an increase in electricity will only be arrived at after agreement between the two parties. The state under the PPP/C never sought to honour this agreement, so in 2012 when the people took to the streets, it was a reminder of government’s failure to govern in good faith.
In the sugar industry every Guyanese, through their ancestors, have given of their sweat and labour. Presently the industry, though comprising a majority of Indians, also has a significant amount of non-Indians. Seeking to resolve its problems and determining a sound way forward would not help pitting Indians against their non-Indian colleagues in the workforce.