We stand with the thousands who will be affected by plans being cooked up for sugar

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) refers to Mr Gobin Harbhajan’s letter which appeared in the August 24, 2017 edition of Stabroek News (‘GuySuCo should be privatized as per the CoI recommendation’). We fully agree with the letter writer’s contention that social and economic development should be the foremost responsibility of any government. This is a notion which, we believe, should not be lost, but for some inexplicable reason is not taken into account by those who currently control the levers of power.

Mr Harbhajan goes on to blame the sugar industry’s current state to mismanagement by the previous administration. While we agree that all was not perfect in those times, at the same time, we recognize that no estate was closed nor were thousands of Guyanese thrown into a life of uncertainty and misery as we see happening presently at Wales. Added to that the author, for reasons best known to him, refuses to draw attention to the pervasive mismanagement taking place in current times. We hasten to remind that sugar production has fallen from 231,000 tonnes in 2015 to an expected 174,000 tonnes in 2017, a 25 per cent drop assuming this year’s target is met.

While the author speaks about the monies provided by the European Union (EU) for the sugar industry, he fails to tell Guyanese that the last $5.4B which was transferred to the government in the latter part of 2016 is still withheld from the industry. Perhaps, Mr Harbhajan is unaware of such facts. Or maybe, he just didn’t consider it suitable for his purposes. Mr Harbhajan argues also that the ‘turnaround plan’ was not a success, on which we beg to differ. We recall production rising from 186,000 tonnes in 2013, to 216,000 tonnes in 2014, and then to 231,000 tonnes in 2015.  Such performances in those years were obviously encouraging and welcome trends.

Mr Harbhajan’s assertion that the “Skeldon Modernisation Project was the death knell of the industry” requires that he separate fact from fiction. In the last months, we have heard and read about several parties who have expressed unsolicited interest in acquiring Skeldon.

Certainly, if the estate was in such a bad state as the author implies, then those interested clearly do not believe his fiction. Furthermore, the author who describes himself as a “Former Member of the Board of Directors (Skeldon Energy Inc)” should be well aware of the value of the Skeldon Co-Generation plant and must be au fait with the huge sums garnered by SEI through the production of the plant. He ought also to be aware of SEI’s recommendation to the Parliamentary Economic Services Committee of having co-generation plants established at other estates in view of the substantial income potential.

Then after all his confabulations, Mr Harbhajan tells Guyanese that “sugar is profitable” but for such profitability to be realized the industry must be placed in private hands. Well, this is really a mouthful. The letter writer argues that the government should uphold the Sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) recommendation in this year. The privatisation of the industry was one of the one hundred and fourteen (114) recommendations made by that costly CoI. The author should be reminded that the CoI also said no closure of estates should be pursued, but already Wales is closed and Rose Hall and Enmore/LBI are likely destined for the same fate. Several other positive recommendations were also made by the CoI including diversification, and that non-sugar agricultural diversification should be done on lands outside of sugar.

All of these, it seems, are ignored by Mr Harbhajan, and we daresay that the CoI report is destined to sit on a shelf to gather dust.

Mr Harbhajan like Mr Abel Seetaram, sought to take a swing at GAWU, but again the attempt suffers from not providing relevant, substantiated facts. We repeat and we will never tire of repeating, as some would wish, that we stand with the thousands of workers who are and will be affected by the plans being cooked up for sugar. Such plans are tantamount to condemning thousands to joblessness and their families to an existence of severe deprivation.

We cannot subscribe to such betrayals of our membership.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

GAWU

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