-Gov’t `scraping together’ $5b severance
President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, Mohamad Raffik yesterday blasted the government for the retrenching of 4,000 sugar workers without there being an alternative for them.
The Berbice sugar belt has been rocked by GuySuCo’s severing of 4,000 even while the government has been unable to offer options though it was meant to be working on this for around two years. Rose Hall, Skeldon and the Enmore estates have been targeted. Wales was shuttered the year before.
“You just cannot send home 4,000 people and you have no alternative”, said the Chamber Presi-dent. He added, “Give the people alternatives and then you could have closed it”.
The Chamber President stated, “Immediately there should have been some kind of plan, either you giving lands to the workers, or opening more lands so people could farm, more can plant rice and cash crop”.
Raffik also said that the Chamber was bothered by the fact that government officials did not meet with the workers and explain the closure.
“You send a human resource person to give a man a letter and he work for over 20 years, that should not have happened”, he declared.
No senior government official has gone to Berbice to speak to the workers since the mass layoffs were announced. Holder had no formal engagement planned with them yesterday.
Raffik stressed that the people of the region are demanding answers they are entitled to from the government as it relates to investment and creation of employment in Region Six.
He said, “The government is not the private sector, if I was a business and it was not making money I would close it but the government has been voted to run the country”.
He added, “… financial consideration of profitability is important, yes, but it is not the only criteria the government got to look at”.
According to Raffik, the chamber met with other government officials last year, during which they advised them to consider privatisation of the estates instead of rushing directly to closure.
Holder responding to Raffik’s questions, said that the government did not realise the extent of the problem it had inherited at GuySuCo in 2015.
“When we discovered that in the first six months we had to find $16B just to put into keeping GuySuCo going, just to pay wages and salary, it was shocking”.
He noted that a Commission of Inquiry was established on the way forward for sugar which recommended that GuySuCo be privatized.
Holder stated that the money GuySuCo was earning did not allow it to pay all of the workers’ salaries, since the estates were producing at a loss.
“The government immediately saw that they needed to rationalize, we decided to keep three estates (Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt)”, he said.
According to Holder, in the initial stages of the plan, GuySuCo officials were speaking with workers, explaining the changes that will be happening to the corporation. He stressed, that persons should bear in mind that the “government is acting responsibly”.
Touching on the severance packages for the estate workers, Holder said, the Minister of Finance is presently “scraping” to find the estimated sum of $5B which is needed to cover the severance. He said that he is hoping that the money will be paid by the end of January, however, he stated, that it now lies in the hands of the Finance Minister and not his.
After writing twice to Holder, requesting a meeting with him, members of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce were yesterday finally able to secure an audience with the minister during his visit to Black Bush Polder.
In Black Bush Polder, the minister met with farmers and then in a separate meeting met with members of the chambers and other businessmen.