The decision taken by the current APNU+AFC administration to close the Rose Hall and Enmore sugar estates is at best short-sighted and at worst a crippling blow, not only to the affected sugar workers and their families, but the economy as a whole.
The dust has not as yet settled from the devastating impact of the closure of the Wales sugar estate when a decision was taken to send home hundreds of sugar workers attached to the Rose Hall Estate. This is most insensitive and certainly does not measure up to that of a caring and responsible government.
I have always maintained the view that the problems of GuySuCo are largely technical and managerial. It is therefore not unsalvageable, and with inputs from key stakeholders such as the representatives of workers, technical and managerial support, and re-capitalization, it could be restored to economic viability.
The sugar industry cannot be seen only in business terms. It is the single largest employer of labour in the country and several other subsidiary economic activities depend on the industry for their survival. The industry still accounts for a major component of the country’s foreign exchange earnings which are so vital for the stability of the local currency.
At an even more fundamental level, it remains the lifeline of the economy in terms of employment generation, and for over a century has absorbed a critical mass of labour and provided a source of income for a countless number of Guyanese, many of whom would have otherwise been unable to provide for themselves and their families. It is true that the employer (which happens to be state) has invested money in the sugar industry, but the workers have, over the several decades, invested their lives and that of their families in the industry. The government, therefore, has a moral and statutory responsibility to explore all possible options to maintain the viability of the industry.
The sugar industry should be in a position to supplement the other sectors including the emerging oil sector, and not be supplanted by these sectors. Revenues from the other sectors, including mining and the anticipated oil and gas revenues, should be utilized for the consolidation and re-tooling of the sugar industry to maximize production and effect an overall re-positioning of the industry to take full advantage of market share. I am not convinced that with good, effective and aggressive marketing strategies we cannot find markets for our sugar, which incidentally is highly competitive in terms of price and quality. Further, we have to also aggressively pursue other sources of value-added products such as co-generation, ethanol, refined sugar and the sale of molasses locally and overseas. Sugar diversification was an abysmal failure under the previous PNC administration. Experience, it is said, is a great teacher, but only if we are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past.