The GAWU saw in the May 15 Stabroek News, Mr Earl John’s letter titled `Progress report needed on investors’ interest in closed sugar estates’. In his letter, Mr John queried about the would-be investors for the closed estates. While we recall some time ago the NICIL-SPU announcing that bidders were being short-listed, nothing has been heard since. That apparent troubling state-of-affairs, undoubtedly, will become even more complicated depending on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) verdict on matters currently engaging its attention.
Moreover, the NICIL-SPU had boldly, and we say proudly, announced that in the intervening period it would have operated the estates directly under its aegis. The March 15, 2018 Kaieteur News had reported that “[t]he SPU is banking on re-opening three of the closed estates – Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore – to utilize millions of dollars in cane still in the ground”. We recollect too, that Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan in a February 28, 2018 report in the Jamaica Gleaner was quoted, in relation to the estates identified for divestment, to have said “[w]e cannot keep them closed and mothballed, because when the buyers come they would probably not be as impressed as if they were working…”
For the thousands who were put on the breadline following the closure of the Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates, the announcement was greeted with optimism. However, that reality sent their aspirations crashing down. East Demerara Estate operated briefly in the first half of 2018, and Skeldon operated for a short period in the second half of 2018. Rose Hall Estate, apart from canes which are harvested for processing at Albion, remains inoperable since it shut its doors at the end of 2017.
The non-operation of those estates will see their fields being taken over by vines, weeds, and grass and the standing canes have hardly any or no value. It would be a near to if not a Herculean task to put the fields right. Moreover, like any piece of machinery, the lying idle of the factories will present many challenges on start-up and would require great maintenance. Those factors aside, the workers, their families and the villages which depended on those estates continue to face tremendous suffering while the proverbial grass is growing. Of course, this hardship of the situation is compounded when we see, at Skeldon for instance, unconscionable demands being made for workers to traverse the backdams to catch fish for their family’s sustenance.
This approach of the handling of the sugar industry by the current Government is just another aspect of its disastrous sugar policy. That policy as we well know has gutted the industry and put thousands out of work. At the same time, billions have been borrowed but no plan regarding its expenditure has been released, as far as we are aware. Clearly, as we have said before, the Administration is out at sea when it comes to the sugar industry and, indeed, many other aspects of national life and people’s well-being.