Ad on sugar has reached a new low

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union’s (GAWU) attention was drawn to an advertisement titled ‘Do Guyanese know these facts about the sugar industry?’ which appeared in the June 15, 2017 Kaieteur News. The whole-page advertisement, something which we understand is very costly, has sought to castigate our union seemingly in response to our forthright stance in defending the workers of the sugar industry in the face of the cold, heartless plans promoted by the administration. While GAWU holds no brief for the PPP/C which was also mentioned in the ad, our union believes it is important to bring clarity to some of the spurious and ill-thought-out sentiments expressed by ‘Concerned Guyanese’.

  1. The Skeldon factory was not a standalone project, it formed part of the wider Skeldon Sugar Modern-isation Project (SSMP) which envisaged the construction of the factory, the establishment of a steam and fuel generating electricity plant as well doubling the estate’s cultivation. It is, therefore, inaccurate to say that US$200M was spent to build the factory only. Furthermore, it is public knowledge that GuySuCo was also expected to invest some of its own resources towards fructifying SSMP. It seems maybe ‘Concerned Guyanese’ has awoken from his/her slumber or is simply being wicked and misleading.
  2. To identify the Skeldon investment as the reason for the GuySuCo’s financial difficulties is most disingenuous. The fact is that the Corporation’s revenue went down by some US$40M per annum as a result of the EU price cut. Moreover, the author of the ad may want to ask the current GuySuCo management officials why is it that after receiving $32B since 2015 from the State that production this year will be less than 200,000 tonnes sugar, well below GuySuCo’s capacity.
  3. We are told that Skeldon “will never work properly”. But this defies logic as we have heard, through press reports, of the ready, unsolicited interest in Skeldon. It will be insane for anyone or any organization to purchase something that will never work. We must mention again that the Skeldon Co-Generation facility brought to the coffers of Skeldon Energy Inc (SEI) over $9B through the sale of electricity to the National Grid. Again, ‘Concerned Guyanese’ seems not to have rationally considered his/her statement.
  4. To speak to Cambior’s investment vis-à-vis the Skeldon investment is like comparing oranges and apples. There is simply no basis for comparison.
  5. ‘Concerned Guyanese’ wonders about where the Skeldon monies went. The author, whomever he/she may be, should insist that the sums received by Booker-Tate which was charged with managing the project should come under the microscope. It ought to be noted that the Booker-Tate director at the time of Skeldon’s construction is nowadays firmly ensconced in the GuySuCo hierarchy.
  6. The ad argues absurdly that GAWU is seeking to protect its union dues income thus its stance on sugar. If that were indeed the case, why is it that the union is calling on GuySuCo to pay the 350-odd workers of Wales their rightful severance entitlements? Many, if not all of those workers, will not return to the Corporation for employment and, therefore, they cannot pay dues. ‘Concerned Guyanese’ is not seemingly connecting the dots but maybe is shooting from hip.
  7. The author tells us that $17M is lost whenever there is a day’s strike. By ‘Concerned Guyanese’ logic if the industry operates for 35 crop weeks per annum its revenue would be $4.165B. For the author’s information, GuySuCo’s revenue in 2015, the last year available, was $21.4B. Again, ‘Concerned Guyanese’ clearly does not seem to know much or is misinformed.
  8. The ad goes on to speak about workers’ strikes, but ‘Concerned Guyanese’ obviously fails to see the clear contradiction in the statement. He/she says on the one hand, workers earn nothing when they strike but on the other says that union dues will be deducted. If a worker doesn’t earn, then it follows he/she cannot have any deductions made.

We see the ad as a new low being reached and the latest in the series of futile attempts to disparage our union for standing up and defending the thousands of sugar workers and also the thousands linked to the industry’s operations. We noticed many of the sentiments contained in the ad are also parroted by administration officials during recent appearances on the television in Berbice. The similarities are indeed interesting and, it seems, there is more than meets the eye.

The GAWU also sees the ad as a poor response in the PR attempts of those who are effectively countered by the militancy of the workers and the consistent exposure of the misinformation that comes out from the officials and their apologists. It is disheartening that the ad appears on the eve of the Enmore Martyrs Death Anniversary. It speaks obviously to the level of respect those who are responsible for the ad have for the hard-working, honest sugar workers and indeed the working people who depend on the industry in one way or another.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary, GAWU

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