Three years ago, at a public forum at the new Hope Secondary School, I expressed the view that GuySuCo would not survive another four years. Three years have gone by and GuySuCo has all but closed its tired eyes for good.
At that forum I suggested that the then administration activate the process of allocating every bona fide sugar worker five acres of land of what then comprised cane lands, issue appropriate titles and manage a structured programme of agri-diversification with the simultaneous interests of the workers and the nation’s macro-economic benefits in mind.
While that forum precluded elaboration of my suggestion, the framework I had in mind, and still do, is that GuySuCo would assist in re-contouring and maintaining drainage and irrigation infrastucture, land preparation, etc. In effect, assist to kick off and support the diversification and transition process. At the ideological level, the thinking was a swathe of 500 acres could be cultivated in bananas, another 500 acres cultivated in pumpkins, etc. The then farm owners will be paid according to how much his 5 acres contributed to the gross production of the 500 acres in which he fell.
A Ministry of Agriculture Exports could be established to arrange markets and facilitate the export process regionally and internationally. That ministry will either purchase outright or make advance payment to producers. Sugar factories could be modified to process, store and transport produce coming from a particular geographic area, inclusive of the traditional farming communities within the geographic spread.
I proffer the preceding paragraphs to outline the beginning of a paradigm shift towards avoiding throwing thousands of sugar workers and their dependents onto the breadline. By now GuySuCo’s Board, its management, the trade unions within the industry, the political administration, past and present, should have accepted the reality that any business entity is a failure if it requires continuing subsidies. It was evident in bauxite; it is now evident in sugar.
The failure in sugar has, in no small measure, been contributed to by all tiers of employees within the industry and persons aligned thereto ‒ from the factory worker who takes home 2 pounds of sugar daily in his lunch bowl, to the manure boy who dumps the fertiliser in the canals instead of applying it on the cane roots, to the sample boy who cuts all samples from one field, to the field foreman who puts additional money in chosen employees’ pay packet, to the field supervisor who supervises at home via his cell phone, to the personnel manager who does his MBE assignments on the job, to the estate manager who examines what goes on in his estate from the spreadsheet on his computer, to the board of directors who never tested the veracity of information presented to them, to the politicians who sidelined sound advice and preferred to be ostriches presiding over an industry as if it were an old boys club. The list of under-performers/non performers is much longer. Suffice it to say that the failure of the sugar industry is an indictment of this very long list of operatives who only saw and decided on the instant. They were oblivious to the future. GuySuCo has been ailing for several years now. Where is their Plan B? If there is one, who is keeping it close to his chest?
And this brings me to the conclusion that unless our nation’s political leaders can agree on a twenty-year plan as to where this country is going and how it will get there, we will continue to lock in our vision to 5-year (or 3-year) terms with national programmes and emphases restricted to those time blocks. If and when another party gets in, the spin starts all over again. This has been the sorry history and reality of this nation. Aren’t we going to learn?
I am not an economist. I am a manager of some repute. Our managers of state enterprises, particularly, need to stop seeing their individual welfare and future as primary. Those you lead are primary; you are secondary. Managers are nobody if they are in one camp and the rest of the organisation is in another. That is fertile ground for collusion instead of coalition. Managers cannot manage from a distance or in absentia. (Lee Iacocca walked the floor at Chrysler and Ronald Reagan said: believe, but verify).
Neither must managers think that they are omniscient. That is the recipe for chaos and destruction. GuySuCo (and the bauxite industry) are signposts of that fact.
The subsidy to the sugar industry must end some time. It is difficult to see it going beyond December of this year. The other revenue generating sectors are also underperforming. So the pool from which subsidies are taken out will get smaller and smaller. And oil money is not on the horizon.
The current government has little time in which to be decisive. But they should not go it alone. They can’t. Inclusiveness is no longer a flight of fancy; it is a critical necessity and all political parties should ‘wake up and smell the coffee’. We can travel in separate boats, diminish our collective manpower, and row against the tide to our separate destruction or we can all get into the same boat, which has more than sufficient space, pool our energies and take this nation to a safe and promising shore ‒ for all our people. Regardless of how we cast our votes, the stark reality is staring us in the face: We drown separately or we survive together.
This letter is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it seeks to represent my views premised on my knowledge of the sugar industry, my interaction with stakeholders within the industry and the fact that I have lived most of my life on a sugar estate and, first and foremost, that I am a patriot.
I wish hereby to invite persons to join in using whatever forum they prefer to make a contribution of their ideas to influence, immediately, the avoidance of breadlining thousands of people directly connected to the sugar industry and, ultimately, the collapse of related economic and social sectors in the not too distant future.