Mr Moses Nagamootoo had said at a rally in Canje (ironically the first set of workers in Berbice to be given redundancy letters) that, “Guyanese should light a candle for sugar workers…sugar workers are being screwed”. Now that the sugar workers are being royally “screwed”, where is Moses? Of course he is not busy parting the Red Sea, that was done a long time ago! He divided the people and was rewarded with his ceremonial crown.
Mr Nagamootoo in his 2012 Budget speech had said that he was threatened with expulsion because he came to the rescue of the sugar workers. However, he should now recognize and accept the fact that the standing up itself is now history. The real Nagamootoo has now emerged. Self-preservation can seal lips and harden hearts. It is now fitting to recall his own words taken from his 2012 Budget speech, “a classic case of the classical proverb, ‘I see not, I hear not, I speak not.’” Today he stands condemned by his own words. It is so unfortunate since I was a great admirer of this man’s zeal as a statesman.
Would the late Dr Cheddi Jagan have stood silently by while many of the sugar workers and their families were faced with dire poverty? Mr Nagamootoo is a self-proclaimed disciple of this great man. In 2012 Nagamootoo had bragged that the “PPP no longer holds the Jagan standards…we have it over here, the Alliance for Change…” Moreover, apart from Mr Nagamootoo’s reverberating silence, the AFC’s Minister of Agriculture, Mr Noel Holder agreed with GuySuCo’s heartless decision to serve redundancy letters to hundreds of sugar worker at Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates before Christmas. He arrogantly insisted that this decision was in keeping with the White Paper, ignoring the fact that the Minister of State, Mr Joseph Harmon had assured the sugar workers that closure of the estate will be delayed until next year. Is there a disconnect among the ministers of government? How could the Minister of Agriculture ignore the human aspect of the decision?
President Granger at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, stressed that, “people must come before profits,” but I do hope that this can be seen as a general guideline of his government’s policies. However, the manner in which sugar workers are being treated for some time now would suggest otherwise. This maxim does not apply to sugar workers. They are expendable because they are deemed to be ‘the raiders of the Treasury’.
There seems to be reluctance on the part of the government, especially the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister to meaningfully engage sugar workers at Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates and try to alleviate some of their fears and convince them how they will continue to benefit from the privatization/diversification process. It is unacceptable for GuySuCo and the Department of Public Information to star in video productions and TV programmes. Personal visits and the engagement of sugar workers in these communities would have done wonders to appease them, but sadly this was above their sky-high status. Leaders must meet and interact with the masses. Sugar workers are more interested where their next meal will come from and not who caused the downfall of GuySuCo.
Many of the sugar workers who were given the termination letters live on a day-to-day basis, from one pay day to the next. They do not have an iota of savings, they borrow from friends and relatives and take groceries on credit during the out-of-crop period hoping to pay off during crop time. I know these things because I live among them and my father was a cane cutter and my mother, a weeder at Albion Estate. I also worked as a cane cutter and a cattle ranger for some time at Albion Estate to make ends meet. Therefore, it means that these workers will literally go hungry and their children will be unable to go to school. Instead of sharing joy, the Minister and GuySuCo shared sorrow.
A final question: Are the redundancy letters to sugar workers just a ploy for the government to now take up the saviour’s role?
Former cane cutter