As an invitee to the symposium that was held at Moray House on February 27, 2018 and despite my enormous time constraint, I attended because the discussion was focusing on the ‘Strategies for Economic Revival in Region 6’. I was enthused to hear from the panelists that comprised Christopher Ram, Accountant/ Attorney-at-Law, Audreyanna Thomas, Communications Manager of GuySuCo and representatives from the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority and Chamber of Commerce in Berbice on what strategies are in place or will be in place, to revive the reportedly economic decline in Region Six.
The economic decline in Region Six has been precipitated by the laying-off of approximately 5,000 sugar workers from the Skeldon and Rose Hall Estates, and it was in this sense that I was motivated to attend to hear what plans, suggestions and/or strategies would be promulgated to revive, or rather stabilize, the economy in Region Six.
Unfortunately, I left the symposium quite disappointed, since the presentations and outcomes defied my expectation of what should have been well articulated and thought out presentations. Apart from Christopher Ram, whose presentation was well delivered and focused on both the reality of the current situation and to some extent on what should be done to alleviate the economic decline, the others were extremely disappointing; more so the presentation by GuySuCo’s Communications Manager. I was expecting an interesting presentation and stimulating discussion on GuySuCo’s presentation.
Editor, when 5,000 sugar workers and their families are in dire financial straits, feeding themselves on the severance allowance that they received, the sugar company’s Communications Manager had the audacity to present to a room full of some of the most prominent members of civil society a PowerPoint presentation on an academic thesis that she is preparing for some course for a British university programme as the blueprint for the alleviation of the massive unemployment in Region Six.
Given the enormity of information on each slide, she was forced to race through each slide, leaving the audience merely listening to her. Her thesis provides for “upskilling” of laid-off workers as a catalyst for developing their means of livelihood. Do the management of GuySuCo endorse this academic thesis as the blueprint for the alleviation of the suffering of the displaced sugar workers?
I am sure Ms Thomas’s presentation has left most attendees in the room convinced that GuySuCo has no logical, meaningful and sincere plan to deal with the massive lay-offs in Region Six. A handful of people trained in masonry, dress-making, catering, carpentry and plumbing will in no way deal with the magnitude of the present situation. 120 hours of training cannot convert a long-standing cane harvester into a competent mechanic who could be gainfully employed as a mechanic. It’s foolhardy for anyone to think this way, and as one member of the audience commented “it’s a massive problem that needs massive thinking”.
Editor, what was also disturbing during Ms Thomas’s presentation was when she stated the sugar company recognizes the sugar workers’ recent payout not as a severance allowance, but as capital waiting to be invested. Immediately, there were exclamations in the room that it is the severance that the workers and their families are feeding themselves on. I would want GuySuCo to show in whatever way the sugar workers with their remaining severance allowance could invest in any form of economic endeavour that will guarantee them a sustainable livelihood.
It is paradoxical for the management of this company to pontificate advising sugar workers to invest their meagre severance allowance for a sustainable income when they, with over $32 billion in government subsidies in the last three years, could only show a perpetual decline in the affairs of the company that they are entrusted to manage.
In closing, it is commendable for the trustees in Moray House to have organized such a well-attended symposium, and for the moderator Mr Joe Singh for a job well done. Unfortunately, at the end it leaves more questions than answers.
(Name and address provided)