It is always productive to have proper debate on issues affecting our economic development, especially the current state of the sugar industry. However, such debates must be objective and factual and supportive evidence must be proffered. However, this is dismally lacking in the case of GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine’s reply to my letter.
He began by defending the previous administration when he implied that it is only this government which has erred in fulfilling its social and economic responsibility. If I could recall the former President at one time ignored the leaders of the union when he met with the union’s representatives at the Guyana International Convention Centre in December 2010. Mr Jagdeo had the sense at that time to recognize that the leaders of the union only cared about themselves and not the workers. He had warned about players within the union who had “other motives”. I was more to the point when I said in my letter that GAWU was more interested in self-preservation and that they do not have and never offered solutions to the myriad of problems affecting the industry. Yet, despite accusing me of “confabulations”, Mr Narine has once again failed to provide solutions to the sugar problems in his letter. GAWU just kept on agitating for unreasonable wage increases and other unsustainable “customs and practices”. They are always part of the problem and not the solution.
What Mr Narine has failed to acknowledge is the fact that I accepted the fact that the CoI did not recommend closure and I further said that if the Wales Estate was privatized then “many jobs would have been saved and many controversies avoided”. So it is useless for Mr Narine to build his argument on that premise. I fully agree that GuySuCo should be fully privatized and that Skeldon should be a pilot project.
Furthermore, private investors have shown interest because sugar is profitable as I have said, and these investors have the ability to make it profitable. No government should be involved in running a business and I have made this clear in my letter. Does Mr Narine feel that any government has the ability to do so? Should GuySuCo be kept and taxpayers’ dollars continue to be uselessly pumped into it to keep it afloat?
Mr Narine spoke about an increase in total production from 186,000 tonnes in 2013 to 231,000 tonnes in 2015 but failed to mention that the losses increased from $$7.1 billion to $17 billion in 2015. Can Mr Narine explain why despite increased production the losses increased in such huge proportions?
Moreover, as at July 2015 the debt burden of GuySuCo stood at $82.5 billion moving from a liquidity position of $4.2 billion in 2004. This was a direct result of the Skeldon Modernization project which malnourished the entire industry. Today, the supposedly automated Skeldon factory is now operated manually with more labour being employed in the operations. The operation costs continue to climb.
This was compounded by the fact that labour costs driven by GAWU’s demands continued to climb to an unsustainable level of 65% of total production costs. The closure of Wales is a direct result. However, Mr Narine knows this better than I do, unless he wants to live in denial.
Mr Narine is talking about the other recommendations (114 of them) made by the CoI yet GAWU has failed to identify which ones are workable. The CoI has recommended full privatization by 2018 and this is the best solution and one which I subscribe to. But GAWU does not want to lose the political stranglehold they have on the workers as well as the lucrative income which they envisaged that they may stand to lose should sugar be privatized. But let’s hear what plans GAWU has for the industry.
Mr Narine also spoke in glowing terms about the Skeldon Co-Generation Plant but he should be cognizant of the fact that since I am a former member of the Board of Directors of SEI that when we took over in 2015 this entire structure was falling apart and it is this government’s intervention which resulted in its profitability.
Having accused me of taking “a swing at GAWU” by not providing “relevant and substantiated facts”, he then repeated the platitude that “GAWU will stand by thousands of workers” and will not “subscribe to the betrayal of our membership”. This type of rhetoric by GAWU has created and sustained an atmosphere of hostility between the workers and the management of GuySuCo. It has forced the previous government to continue to waste subsidies with no solution in sight and has forced this government to do so until now, but this simply cannot continue and GAWU knows this fully well. Let Mr Narine and his union provide the solutions rather than just be interested in keeping their livelihood intact. They have already ‘betrayed’ their membership by not being open and honest with them.
Regional Democratic Council
Former Board of Directors Skeldon Electricity Inc