Even as the coalition Government assured that no decision would be taken on the future of the cash-strapped and heavily indebted Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) without meaningful consultations with the relevant stakeholders, it has come under criticism for not undertaking any social or economic assessments.
At one of its consultation meetings on Saturday, the State’s delegation was asked whether any assessments were done before, particularly ahead of its decision to close the Wales Sugar Factory to ascertain the implications.
The delegation was led by Second Vice President and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and included Agriculture Minister Noel Holder; Social Protection Minister Amna Ally, and Junior Finance Minister Jaipaul Sharma. The issue was raised by the Opposition’s representative Irfaan Ali, who along with Juan Edghill were at the meeting.
“When I enquired from GuySuCo about any social or economic assessment that was done to inform any of the Government plans and recommendations, which include closure of estates, it was quite revealing to learn that none was done. How could the Government even contemplate a position on such an important industry to the economy and people without examining the social and economic implications?” Ali was quoted as saying in a comment to the Guyana Times newspaper.
He noted that both the Sugar Corporation and the Government officials acknowledged that despite neither of these studies being done, they went ahead with the closure of Wales Estate since they saw no need for it.
“This is the height of irresponsibility and we must not tolerate this as a people. The social and economic landscape of tens of thousands is being dissipated without any assessment of what the decision means for the country and people,” Ali remarked.
The Opposition member further said that what was even more shocking was Vice President Ramjattan’s response that Government has enough information to make their decision. Ali outlined that the Minister even went on to say that if the Opposition wants a social and economic study they can do it themselves.
“It is clear that the Government has no concern about the welfare of these communities, the people and the sugar industry. An examination of the social and economic impact of any decision relating to the sugar industry is fundamental if we are to understand the holistic contribution of this industry to national life,” he explained.
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.”
Meanwhile, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, who was also at the meeting, was quoted in the newspaper as saying that the APNU/AFC Government was ”irresponsible” in not conducting any assessment beforehand.
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.
The GAWU head explained that the closure of GuySuCo will have far reaching implications not only because of the thousands of workers who will be displaced, but because there are thousands more Guyanese who depend upon the workers’ income.
He pointed out that the spin-off effect of the workers distributing their income and the effects it has on the economy, is something that Government is not bothered about, otherwise they would have done the assessments, which would have provided critical information about how much the Guyanese population depended on the sugar industry and the consequence of closing the industry.
According to Chand, the assessment would have also highlighted what other sector or industry the displaced workers can possibly turn to.
There continues to be uncertainty over the future of GuySuCo with accusations of “secrecy” against Government, following a deal struck with a Trinidadian company.
Last month, the Guyana Times newspaper broke the story that Trinidadian company D Rampersad and Company Limited (DRCL) was likely to rake in major benefits from the Guyana Government, including favourable tax incentives for the development of an integrated sugarcane processing facility at the Skeldon Sugar Estate, after the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked in December for the undertaking of a feasibility study.
However, Government has since denied any secrecy in a deal struck with a Trinidadian company, with Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman pointing out that it was merely a MoU to conduct a feasibility study.
Moreover a few days after, the coalition administration was faced with more backlashes after it was revealed that Prime Minister and First Vice President Moses Nagamootoo’s son-in-law is reportedly working to bring in investors for a possible takeover of the cash-strapped GuySuCo.
A previous correspondence from the Agriculture Ministry had stated that it was having dialogue on potential investments in GuySuCo with representatives of an India-based Company with extensive knowledge of the sugar industry, Srinath Ispat Limited.