Despite recommendations to privatise the local sugar industry and expressions of interest from foreign investors, Opposition parliamentarian Irfaan Ali is of the view that no “informed” decision can be made on the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) without any impact assessments being carried out.
To this end, Ali has written Second Vice President and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan on the matter.
At one of its stakeholder consultation meetings earlier this month when asked, the State’s delegation disclosed that no social or economic assessments were done before, particularly ahead of its decision to close the Wales Sugar Factory to ascertain the implications. It noted that Government officials felt there was no need for such assessments.
Hence, in his letter to Ramjattan, Ali asserted that the parliamentary Opposition believes that no proper analysis, decision or recommendation on this industry can be derived without a complete social study and assessment of the impact on communities, regions and the country as a whole; a comprehensive economic study of the impact on communities, regions and the country as a whole, and full diversification study with feasibility study, market analysis and comprehensive assessment of each alternative area recommended.
“At our last stakeholder forum, you advised that these studies were not done. We made it clear to you that there is no way you can take an informed decision on this industry that will affect thousands of families, hundreds of communities and businesses and the national economy as a whole without these studies,” Ali outlined in the letter.
He went on to point out that moving forward without any of these analyses on the sugar industry would be like “shooting in the dark”. “We will never play with the livelihood of tens of thousands of Guyanese directly and indirectly and the health of Guyana’s economy in such manner. I therefore propose that if these documents continue to be unavailable, the next meeting focuses on developing a plan of action to have these reports, studies, documents and assessment completed,” the Opposition parliamentarian said in this letter to Ramjattan.
According to the Caribbean Development Bank Mechanisation Report December 2014, “the sugar industry still contributes around five per cent of GDP; provides direct employment for approximately 16,000 (in 2013) (95 per cent male); supports over 300 services providers; and is the third largest contributor of foreign exchange. It also plays a critical socio-economic and environmental role in the predominantly low-income coastal communities where cultivation and processing are concentrated.”
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, based on a subsequent interview he had with the Guyana Times newspaper, explained that due to time constraints and the need to resolve the operating expenses at GuySuCo, Government could not conduct a social and economic impact assessment before closing down estates.
“Why wasn’t it done for 20 years? The PPP Government knew that sugar could not continue the way it was going. The selling price (was low) and operating costs were too great… So the (coalition) Government came in and realised that the bailouts couldn’t continue. A study like that would take a long time. It’s not something you can do overnight,” the Minister had stated.
According to the Minister, an impact assessment would take between nine months to a year to be completed. The Minister stated that Government and the economy could not afford to maintain the system and the bailouts.
“So if the PPP wants to do an (assessment), they can go ahead and do it. But we don’t have the time, at this stage. We’re at crunch time now. It would take nine months to a year to do a proper study. So who is going to finance GuySuCo during that time? We had to make a decision,” he remarked.
However, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), Komal Chand had stated that this move by Government was irresponsible. He explained that a social economic impact study should have been done, especially since Government will soon be making a decision on the beleaguered sugar industry.
“Having not done a study or assessment on an industry that has such a wide-spread effect is big and having not done any, they say they will not do one now… It does not show that they are a responsible Government and a Government that cares about the people,” Chand noted.