A set of senior government officials should be sent home for the severance pay fiasco

Dear Editor,

SN’s revealing headline, ‘Can’t send home 4000 workers without options  -Corentyne Chamber Head tells Holder  -Gov’t “scraping together” $5b severance’ refers (January 5).  This cannot be happening; ‘scraping’ is not only embarrassing to the government’s image, it comes at the absolute worst time for the workers and their families, who are left stranded and wondering what next and when.  And then if they should believe.

My first reaction was that surely the Minister cannot be serious.  The continuing deterioration of sugar in this country is not an overnight phenomenon.  And the painful decision that significant numbers of workers had to be retrenched was long in the works, as can be gathered from what the same Minister shared in the referenced SN article.  The hard unavoidable reality of unemployed workers loomed for the longest while.  While the final total to be let go might have been subject to all manner of reviews and revisions, there was wide resignation and acceptance that some not inconsiderable number of workers would have to be sent home permanently.  The thinking was that some of this was going to occur sometime on or before the end of 2017.  To repeat for clarity: this was neither on the spur of the moment, or through the suddenness of an overnight shock.

Therefore, for the Minister of Agriculture to share at this late hour that the government is ‘scraping together’ to find $5 billion severance money can only be described as the height of incompetence and callousness, as well as some arching degree of banality.  Scraping might be apropos of the masonry and joinery trades, but has no place in government, particularly when such lengthy advance notice was present.  The kindest that I can come up with in response to ‘scraping’ is pauperization of expression and bankruptcy of intellect, through a failure to comprehend the sweeping arc of events.

The way I see this is that five billion dollars is a lot of money; it is going to take much scraping to come up with some sawdust spare change here and there to meet this huge severance demand.  Five billion could take a long time to scrape together in a strapped economy like Guyana’s, where the funds might just not be there waiting for the finding.  Five billion is going to call for more than scraping together; it means much deep drilling and excavating.  The fate of the workers could hang on indefinitely and painfully.  Clearly, this thing was not thought through all the way to the end.  That is, beyond the firings.  Also, this whole business takes on a different complexion when another minister did promise ‒ and commit to ‒ the government’s honouring of severance obligations on a timely basis.  Except now there is this bobbing and weaving about scraping.  To continue with the boxing language, let there be the hope that there would be no throwing in of the towel.

In all of this, reasonable people would think that different scenarios and associated contingencies (number of impacted workers, monies needed, and possible sources) would all have been previously worked out within the caverns of government, such that today the workers would have been paid already, or soon to be.  In a normal world, workers are not just terminated and sent home, only to hear something that sounds like this: severance pay arrangements are being worked out; that information will be forthcoming in due course.  In other words: don’t call us, we will call you.  Unsaid is: when we get around to it.  Somebody should be fired for this; correction: a whole set of senior government officials ought to be sent home.

In the real world, heads would roll.  There is one problem: there are some heads so empty that they resist force, momentum and gravity; they refuse to roll.  From all indications, this severance pay issue is now morphing from political snafu to social tragedy to financial séance to public relations disaster.  Seems like business as usual.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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