When the Trinidad sugar industry was in its death throes, and closure was imminent, I remember a good friend of mine, who was in a senior management position at Caroni to the end, telling me about the chaos which overtook that industry as controls slackened and were lost.
I cannot bear to think that our sugar industry is near such a state, but when whole estates are being abandoned, factories shuttered, production slipping to levels not seen for 150 years, morale declining and a future speculative to say the least, it may be time to ask what is happening in the industry as it falls further and further into disrepair and despair.
* What is happening to drainage and irrigation infrastructure and pumping stations and equipment and routine procedures and maintenance and planning?
* Are the conservancies and their daily maintenance being attended to efficiently?
* What is being done with the thousands of acres of dams and cultivated fields so carefully brought into production over the decades and now being abandoned?
* What is happening to the myriad roads and bridges and field structures now neglected?
* What is being done with field equipment now unused?
* What is happening in the closed factories ‒ the vast array of factory equipment now silenced? What, in particular, is to happen to the Skeldon factory?
* What is being done with the field and factory workshops and their extensive inventories?
* What is happening to the closed offices and the office furniture and equipment and supplies?
* What is being done with all the stores with their millions in value in spares and replacements and fertilizers and weedicides and items of a thousand kinds?
* What is happening to all the houses and buildings on the abandoned estates and their furniture and contents?
* What is being done with all the innumerable cars and trucks and motorbikes and vehicles of every sort now redundant?
* What is happening to the health centres and community centres and staff clubs and guest houses and all that these contain and provide?
* What is happening at Demerara Sugar Terminals where our bulk sugar was shipped so efficiently for so long?
* I am taking it for granted that the regionally acclaimed, world-class Port Mourant Apprentice Training Centre will continue to be well-staffed and fully operational and even expanded to meet retraining needs and the national hunger for more and more technical skills. It is essential that this part of the industry is strengthened, not diluted or diminished.
* What artifacts, equipment, buildings, landmarks are being identified so that at least a sugar museum can one day be established?
* And what records are being preserved so that historians in the future can tell the story of this great and seminal industry?
And so on and on. Where, for instance, is the molasses to come from now to feed our important and rapidly expanding liquor-exporting business? And whatever happened to our once so highly regarded cane variety testing programme ‒ we were leaders in that field?
It is not a simple thing unravelling before our appalled eyes. It needs hard work and vigilance and devoted application to prevent even greater loss to the nation. Who is taking hold of this? Which minister knows what is happening and bears responsibility?
I know that the nation’s chief concern must be for the six to seven thousand displaced sugar workers and their families ‒ and more to come ‒ and how best to assist them and their stricken communities.
However, there are other questions which deserve an answer as this once great industry spirals towards collapse.