Former President Donald Ramotar has accused the current government of accepting loans from India that he initiated except those pertaining to the rehabilitation of the sugar industry but State Minister Joseph Harmon says he is unaware of the claim and has urged that the former head of state prove it.
“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 Stabroek News in an interview.
Ramotar said a meeting was held with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and other officials in January, 2015 and they discussed financial assistance for projects. “For sugar, we had a general agreement in principle to recapitalise the industry and they promised whatever help was needed they would assist,” he added.
“An entire day was spent in Mumbai meeting and having discussions with Indian businessmen involved in sugar there. We discussed and looked at the possibilities of them coming here to provide technical assistance. I also met companies who wanted to buy into the industry here. These were persons who have sugar businesses in Brazil and other parts of the world and wanted to come here. But we let them know that our interest then was fundamentally [getting] technical assistance and to get persons who had mechanical parts and so on,” he explained.
“Documents were compiled, we took information on companies. From the meetings with government [of India], we also prepared [documents] so that when I came home I had the (then GuySuCo) CEO, Raj Singh, preparing what was needed so that we could start a formal proposal. We did all of that… and this government knows and should have the documents but never acted on that,” he added.
Ramotar lost the general elections of May, 2015, resulting in the end of almost 23 years of PPP/C rule.
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.
“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.
But when this newspaper contacted Harmon, he said that he is not aware that any loans from India were sidelined.
“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 sidelined during our administration,” he said.
“If he has information which the government is required to answer to, he should say so. He is a former president, he is not in the league of any ordinary writer. I think he should understand that he bears an additional responsibility to provide accurate information. When he writes that as a former president, a certain level of respect is given to him. If he provides information that cannot be verified then, the public will have a right to treat with him as any ordinary writer and not a former president. …I believe it is incumbent on him to provide the details of which he speaks because I not aware of it,” he added.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge was also contacted and said that while he knows that the government of India has provided $100 million in loans to this country for various projects, he has to check and verify records before he can comment on the claim.
Ramotar says that since the loans were initiated though the Foreign Affairs Ministry, there would have to be records.
“If they check, all the information is right there. Carolyn [Rodrigues-Birkett], former Minister of Foreign Affairs] could not be there at the time but a representative was. All the documents are there and they must say why only some soft loans were taken and not a single [one] for sugar, which could have saved what is happening now with the over 4,000 sugar workers unemployed and with only promises of a half now, half later severance,” he stressed.