Guyana’s economy is not robust enough to absorb the closure of the sugar industry

Dear Editor,

Any assessment that views the sugar industry through the lens of dollar and cents or profit and loss, would be deeply flawed and highly myopic. Sugar in Guyana is not merely an economic undertaking or venture. It is an institution. It does not merely provide employment, earn foreign exchange or contribute to GDP. It sustains communities comprising of tens of thousands of humans and represents a way of life. The Guyanese economy is neither large nor diversified enough to sustain the loss of sugar. The socio-economic consequences that will flow therefrom will reverberate across every divide and pull every sector with it in its cascading downward avalanche.

Recently, in Nairobi, Kenya, President David Granger informed the world that his government is committed to people and not profits. The President fails to see the contradiction in closing down an industry which directly and indirectly will affect every citizen of his country on the basis that it is not yielding the desired profits. The PPP, from the inception, requested the government to do an impact assessment of the intended closure of the industry. We are firmly committed to the view that the cost of closure far outweighs the cost of keeping the industry operational. Indeed, the government did no impact assessment whatsoever or feasibility study of any kind before deciding to close the industry. Its own Commission of Inquiry did not recommend closure. As a result the government is unable to proffer an intelligent reason for the closure of the industry. The consequence is that they have exposed themselves to the widespread view that the decision to close the industry is driven by political and ethnic considerations.

It is obvious that one newspaper piece can never accurately encompass the true impact of the closure of this industry. However, at a glance, thousands of families are immediately placed on the breadline without any hope whatsoever of alternative employment in the foreseeable future. Severance benefits, if paid at all, will not be paid in the near future. These families have loan payments to make to the commercial banks for their homes. They have debts to pay for furnishings and vehicles acquired by hire purchase. Food has to be placed on the table and in lunch kits for children to attend school. Electricity and other expenses have to be met. Clothes and healthcare have to be paid for. And the list goes on.

The indirect consequences would be equally devastating. The impact of the closure of Wales Estate can currently be assessed. The lower West Bank Demerara communities are currently gripped in a socio-economic paralysis. Over 75% of the economy of Regent 6, revolves around the sugar industry. The remaining 25% would find it impossible to survive in isolation. The private sector recognizes this reality, hence their call on the government to reverse the decision to close the industry. Crime will continue to skyrocket. Other social dilemmas will soon emerge and multiply.

The government seems oblivious to the fact that the drainage and irrigation system currently administered by GuySuCo is fundamental to keeping floodwaters off the low coastland. When these estates are closed this vital interlink of drainage canals will collapse. Massive flooding will be the inevitable consequence. The residents and farmers of Canals No 1 and 2 are currently reeling from floodwaters inundating those communities because of the blocked canals that formed part of Wales Estate. This catastrophe will replicate itself in all those areas where estates are being closed. The destruction will be catastrophic. The cost to central government will be phenomenal. Not a cent has been budgeted for the year 2018 to address this impending disaster.

Many of these estates provide a system of healthcare for their workers, their families, and others in the locality in which they are situated. This healthcare system will close down. The impact may become a public health tragedy. The community centres and other recreational facilities that provide scarce clean entertainment opportunities for residents in these communities will swiftly disappear. Alcohol and drug abuse will flourish in replacement.

Dr Clive Thomas, the Chairman of GuySuCo, is quoted in the press as saying that the Skeldon co-generation plant supplies electricity to the national grid for 65 000 families. GPL receives the revenue. Not a cent goes to the sugar industry. This supply of electricity will soon die. Deme-rara Distillers Ltd, one of Guyana’s largest manufacturing companies, is currently reviewing the impact that the closure of the sugar industry will have on its capacity to continue to produce rum.

The above is by no means exhaustive. However, it provides more than a glimpse of the devastation which will flow from the closure of the sugar industry. This is nothing short of a human rights tragedy. I do not think Guyana’s economy is sufficiently either versatile or robust enough to sustain the social and economic onslaught that the closure of the sugar industry will soon unleash. I am confident that the government will not survive it. Our society is simply too small and our economy too integrated to be insulated from the consequences. Like the financial crisis that hit the world in 2008, the economic and social meltdown will affect every citizen.

As for the PPP, we will stand resolutely not only with the sugar workers, but with all other workers who will reel from this disaster. We will use the one hundredth birth anniversary of Dr Cheddi Jagan as the platform for the struggle and to inspire us to work relentlessly in order to ensure not only the survival these workers and their families but also the eventual reversal of this evil, inconsiderate, and unwarranted decision to close the sugar industry. We recognize that the struggle will be long and hard and the sacrifices will be many, but win we must for our cause is just. History and time are on our side.

Yours faithfully,

Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP

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