When Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge and his delegation meet with Indian officials this week, Georgetown will be taking up New Delhi’s offer of support for the restructuring of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the sugar industry, Minister of State Joseph Harmon says.
“What I can say now is Vice President Greenidge is leading a team to India and we are reviewing several arrangements or agreements made between our countries with respect to not just the sugar industry,” Harmon told Stabroek News yesterday, on the sidelines of an Alexander Village outreach.
It was President David Granger who first made public, on Friday evening, that Guyana would be receiving support from the Indian government for the reformation of the sugar industry and that his government was heartened at the assistance.
Granger was at the time delivering the feature address at the 69th Republic anniversary of India celebration, which was held at the Marriott Hotel, according to press release from the Ministry of the Presidency.
He was reported as saying that Guyana stands firm in its friendship with India and recommitted to renewing and reinforcing existing commitments to cooperation. In this regard, he said that the planned visit to India this week by a delegation from Guyana, will help to advance those relations and result in the signing of more mutually beneficial agreements.
“Guyana looks forward to intensifying its cooperation with India in order to advance its green development agenda. We are heartened by India’s offer to develop Guyana’s renewable energy resources in accord with our ‘Green State Development Strategy.’ Guyana welcomes India’s offer to assist in reforming the sugar industry and to enhance trade, investment and collaboration in the fields of agriculture, education, mining and renewable energy, among others,” he was quoted as saying.
Recently, former President Donald Ramotar accused Granger’s administration of ignoring promised financial help from India for the sugar industry that had been brokered before he was voted out of office in 2015.
“I say with strong conviction that this government has taken a discriminatory policy regarding the sugar industry because India was there, willing to offer us assistance to help and had the loans. [They were] just waiting on us to do the calculations to say how much we needed,” Ramotar told this newspaper in a recent interview.
“For sugar, we had a general agreement in principle to recapitalise the industry and they promised whatever help was needed they would assist,” he said, before accusing the current administration of never acting on the offer.
Ramotar said that he was peeved at the approach taken towards the sector, since he strongly believes that the loans would have helped turn around the industry and that by now, three years later, benefits would have been evident.
“It was our plan to save the sugar industry and I still believe that if those monies are taken it is not too late to save it,” he posited.
He said he is bewildered as to why government would refuse the loans but accept others that were discussed and committed to at the same January, 2015 meeting while he was President and on a visit to New Delhi.
“They took the loan to build the new ferry to go to Mabaruma, to establish the IT Park at UG [University of Guyana] and most of all to connect that East Bank road with the East Coast road. Imagine they took all of those, but none to recapitalise the sugar industry. Tell me why nah?” he questioned.
“I can tell you why but I know you might not report it. The only credible answer, I believe, is because the majority of persons directly connected to sugar are from the Indo Guyana [community]. You look at it and tell me what else it could be,” he added.
However, Harmon had urged that the former head of state substantiate the claim. Harmon told this newspaper that he was not aware that any loans from India were ignored.
“He should identify what these loans are. Mr Ramotar should provide info and not just these blanket statements. He would have had access to this information and if he is saying there are loans he needs to specifically say. I am not aware that any loans were side-lined during our administration,” he said.
Greenidge, who was also contacted, said that while he knew that the government of India has provided US$100 million in loans to this country for various projects, he had to check and verify records before he could comment on the claim.
Ramotar, who also attended Friday evening’s celebration, said that as he heard the President’s address he felt vindicated and while pleased that the offer was being taken up now, wished that it was sooner.
“I was there at the event and could not believe what I was hearing. I did not make a big deal out of it to say this or that but I felt vindicated because I know and they know it was a discussion initiated by me,” he told Stabroek News yesterday.
“It is good that they are tapping into that support but it could have been done sooner and I believe if it was we may not have been in this current state; where there was a decision to close the estates and so on. But help from India, that has a wealth of experience in the industry, is good help and I hope they make the best of it. I will be sharing my ideas on what I think soon,” he added.
Harmon said that the assistance sought would be for India to aid this government in plans for going forward though divestment and restructuring.
“What it entails is our plans for divestment and the restructuring of the industry itself that is what he [President Granger] is talking about. That is something we are discussing with the Indian government but it is not as if there is a loan for that purpose. These are discussions that we have gotten a positive feedback from the Indian government about, that this is something they are prepared to help us to look at; restructuring GuySuCo,” the Minister of State said.
He informed that in addition to the sugar industry, discussions and negotiations will also be had pertaining to getting assistance in other areas.
“We are reviewing several arrangements or agreements made between our countries with respect to not just the sugar industry but public transportation; ferries to the Northwest District in Region 1. There are some assistance in our energy sector- solar energy, there is some assistance also in our Information Technology arrangements…,” he said even as he noted that he had already shared information on the plans at last Friday’s post-Cabinet Press briefing.
“But of course anybody that provides us that kind of help we are going o take it up, and this is one of the things Vice President Greenidge will be addressing in India, in his meetings there, with the Indian administration. We have always had excellent relations with the government of India and every year you would recognize that apart from the information technology programme, the Indian government provides us with a significant amount of training. They have provided us with loans and grants. Since we came into office, I can recall the grant for the building of the ICT centre at UG (University of Guyana). We continue to engage with the Indian government and our relationship has been an excellent one and we want to build on it,” he added.
In the main, the projects referred to by Harmon emerged during Ramotar’s term in office.