PPP supports reopening of sugar estates

-Jagdeo sees `phenomenal incompetence’ by gov’t

With the planned reopening of the Skeldon and Enmore sugar estates, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday rained criticism on the David Granger-led APNU+AFC government saying that the move  was reflective of their  “phenomenal incompetence”.

However, the Opposi-tion Leader says that his party will support a move to open any of the estates and government needs to admit it made a blunder in the estate closures.

“They should have never closed them in the first place and if they can reopen them that is fine with me. In fact I will support the reopening of all the estates. Why stick with these two?” Jagdeo told a press conference he called yesterday.

Further, he added, “The government must admit it made a blunder, it treated the sugar industry in a political fashion when they should have done more technical work. We called on them to do the technical work. They never did, they made the wrong decision. Once they admit that’s fine. I think the country can forgive that. Many sugar workers might not forgive them but any form of reopening will be supported by the People’s Progressive Party,” he added.

Stabroek News yesterday reported that just weeks after they were shuttered, the Skeldon and Enmore estates will be reopened by the end of March and some cane cutters re-employed. The move is being made to demonstrate to potential buyers that the estates are viable and as such can be sold as going concerns, sources say.

“They are looking at the Skeldon and Enmore estates where it will be reopened so that the canes that are there now can be utilized and show potential buyers that these are all working estates with assets… they will be sold as going concerns,” one source close to the industry told Stabroek News.

The source explained that there is currently over 300,000 tonnes of sugar cane in the fields of the Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore estates and it was government’s Special Purpose Unit (SPU) which proposed that the estates be reopened to utilize the cane.

It is the SPU that will be now responsible for overseeing the management of the estates but it is unclear how the project would be executed.

Government last year announced that the Skeldon, Rose Hall  and Enmore estates would be closed and by year end over 4,000 GuySuCo workers were given redundancy letters followed by the subsequent estate closures.

This newspaper tried, for the second day, contacting Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder and officials of GuySuCo to no avail.

However, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan was asked yesterday morning by the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) about the reopening and said that the two estates could be reopened by the end of March. He added that the SPU would be seeking financing for the reopening.

“If they are closed then the interest of investors and how much you will be able to get from a buyer may be considerably less so the thinking is to keep them in motion,” NCN quoted Jordan as saying.

“The Special Purpose Unit of NICIL is in discussions with a bank to seek short-term financing to get these two operations going for the short term even as they pursue the parallel operation of getting these estates valued and attracting investors. My understanding is (there have been) more than seventy responses to the invitation for bids,” he also explained.

But Jagdeo said while he welcomed the move he believes that government lied to justify the closures of the estates and it needs to tell the people if it has a solid concrete plan for the industry as 4,000-plus job losses and an almost fifty percent closure of estates in a 300-year-old industry was a serious issue.

Bombarded

“On the sugar issue, we have been bombarded with propaganda from the government that the debt of GuySuCo is over $80b it is not so when you adjust the debt …it is less than $15B. We have been told by the government that there is no future and we can’t afford putting subsidy into the future because the cost of production is too high. On the basis of those, [they] decided to close four estates. Then suddenly today we are seeing in the headlines that the government will restart some of these factories. We need to understand what the thinking of this government is,” he stressed.

“Does it sit down and go through the numbers first before it makes a decision, as the one it did to close an almost 300 years industry? In three years they have practically shut down half of that industry, on the basis of faulty analysis. Then on a whim, decided to open some of these factories claiming they have a bright future now. What goes on in this government?” he asked.

The government had been strongly criticized for allowing the severing of the over 4,000 GuySuCo workers without having options in place for them or evaluating the social impact of the job losses on their communities. It had also been pilloried on its unpreparedness to pay severance immediately to all the workers. Of the 4,763 severed workers, 1,851 are from the Skeldon Estate, 1,181 from Rose Hall, 1,480 from the East Demerara Estate and 251 from Wales.

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