Former President Bharrat Jagdeo is widely reported in the press as telling sugar workers in Berbice in the past week that any government he leads will make generous payments to those who were retrenched if the PPP wins general elections in 2020.
In the normal scheme of things, Mr Jagdeo is engaging in good politics by making what would seem as elaborate promises to sugar workers; this would be music to the ears of these very workers at this time as that part of the country has traditionally supported his party. But the reality is that no matter what Mr Jagdeo and PPP legislators say, the sugar industry is currently debt laden and in an unprofitable state. This is largely because the PPP had chosen not to bite the bullet and take the necessary steps to cut massive yearly losses, deal with the thousands of man hours lost to strikes, work to bring down the cost per pound of sugar to match the world market and deal with money-losing estates.
A point to note is that former President Donald Ramotar and other PPP big wigs sat on GuySuCo’s board for years and not only presided over the company’s decline, but are now fighting down the coalition government as it moves to ease the drain on the national purse. Isn’t this amazing?
The company is producing a pound of sugar at over 40 American cents compared to the world market price of less than 12 cents. Very few governments in the world would tolerate this. As we all know, Mr Granger’s government is not the most adroit in getting its messages out. All it has to do is to simply point its critics to neighbouring Trinidad which abandoned sugar in 2007 and St Kitts in 2005. Of the four remaining producers, sugar is only a bit profitable in Belize, not in Jamaica, Barbados or Guyana.
So Mr Jagdeo has to hope that the industry survives until 2020 as given the level of bleeding it is experiencing at the moment, there isn’t much hope that a vibrant, even scaled down, sector would be left while Mr Jagdeo and the PPP are campaigning to get back into office. This in itself seems to be an unlikely prospect, but Jagdeo is dishing out promises nevertheless.