Former Agri. Minister says Govt’s binge of lies cannot hide the truth
The following is a ‘commentary’ by former Agriculture Minister under the PPP/C Administration, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
At less than 184,000 tons of sugar, GUYSUCO has had its worst performance since 1991. Its production fell by more than 20% in 2016, even though GUYSUCO’s number of weeks of production (32 weeks) was one of the highest in recent times.
It failed to reach its original target 242,000 tons by more than 25%. Neither the Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder nor the Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo who at the end of 2015 frothed from their mouths in boasting about sugar production of 231,000 tons have talked much about the collapsing trajectory of the sugar industry 2016.
They have valiantly tried, like their other colleagues, to steer clear from talking about sugar in 2016. In fact, PM Nagamootoo who proclaimed himself the sugar workers champion has steadfastly ignored the plights of sugar workers, declaring from the luxurious comforts of his office and opulence of his seat in Parliament that sugar workers are ungrateful for not thanking APNU+AFC for the subsidies to GUYSUCO.
Their 2016 end-of-year posture is breathtakingly different from their 2015 end-of-year posture. At the end of 2015, APNU+AFC was ebullient in taking credit for successes in sugar. APNU+AFC, particularly the PM and the Minister of Agriculture, presented 2015 sugar successes as the transformation promised by APNU+AFC, in direct contrast with alleged mismanagement by the PPP before 2015. They claimed credit for Skeldon Sugar Factory recording its highest production in 2015 since the commissioning of the factory in 2009 and the overall 20% increase in sugar production. While it was evident to everyone that sugar production in 2015 was based on a successful first crop and from PPP inputs, APNU+AFC was shamelessly belligerent in hogging credit for the 2015 sugar production. They claimed it was APNU+AFC’s superior management of the industry that led to the 231,000 tons sugar production and Skeldon Factory’s success.
What a difference a year makes! Now APNU+AFC hide from talking about sugar. As 2017 rolls in, sugar workers know they face a bleak 2017. Sugar workers have had zero wage increase for 2015 and 2016 and have been warned that there is no relief in 2017. For the first time since 1940 when Annual Sugar Production Incentives (API) started, sugar workers were denied any API in 2016. Sugar production fell to a 25-year lowest production, Wales Estate has been closed, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates are faced with closure in 2017. Cane cultivation in Providence ceased and has been reduced at Skeldon and Rose Hall. Sugar packaging at Enmore and Blairmont have had its worst year ever. The pilot ethanol production plant at Albion has been essentially abandoned. The sugar industry has never been in a more bleak situation than it is today.
The status of the sugar industry, in fact, reflects a more dire proposition than the sugar posture from the old People’s National Congress in the 1980s until they were deposed in 1992. Like the old PNC, APNU+AFC’s posture is SUGAR must close, with parts privatized. As we embark on 2017, APNU+AFC is not disguising its intention to complete what was started under the PNC and interrupted by the PPP in 1992 – Privatize and Close, Kill SUGAR. They have shown no mercy and no empathy with sugar workers and their families. The brutal truth is that by their action, they are hurting all Guyanese. The sugar industry is too big to fail. Even President Granger was forced to admit this before the 2015 election. Now they are determined to complete the wicked scheme of the PNC, close SUGAR.
Instead of being forthright, APNU+AFC is on a binge of misinformation and outright lies. After the first crop in 2015, GUYSUCO was on pace to reach 240,000 tons, and it reached 231,000 for a successful year. It had nothing to do with any APNU+AFC transformation. The first crop of 2015 saw the best performance for Skeldon since its commissioning, benefiting from the remedial investment from the PPP. Its continued success in the second crop of 2015 showed that Skeldon was beginning to overcome “growing pains”. This too had nothing to do with APNU+AFC. But having taken credit for 2015, APNU+AFC is blaming the dramatic reduction in 2016 performance on Skeldon Factory “falling apart”, strikes and bad weather, all supposedly instigated by the PPP. But the number of strikes was not different from any year the PPP was in government and the weather was cooperative, better than most of the years since 2005, explaining why the long 2016 grinding seasons. And if Skeldon Factory was at its “best” at the end of 2015, how come it has suddenly fallen apart in 2016?
APNU+AFC now admit that the design plan of Booker Tate for Skeldon Sugar Factory was flawed. For years in Opposition, they disregarded the PPP’s position that the design plan Booker Tate implemented for Skeldon was flawed and Booker Tate bears responsibility since it was a turnkey project under Booker Tate’s management. In fact, the PPP took legal recourse to hold Booker Tate accountable. APNU+AFC/GUYSUCO has abandoned that legal recourse. It is noteworthy that the present CEO was the then Booker Tate’s representative on GUYSUCO’s Board.
The misinformation game is exemplified at Wales Sugar Estate. There is no plan for Wales, more than a year since they announced its closure. From one spurious idea to another, they tried to fool the sugar workers and the Guyanese people they have a plan. Just a few months ago, the Minister of Agriculture and the PM spoke of transforming Wales into a livestock giant. But just in the last two weeks, the Agriculture Minister announced that rice production has started and the first crop at Wales will be harvested in March 2017. It was a lie and a senior GUYSUCO official confirmed that no rice cultivation has started at Wales.
The same Minister announced that no one formally approached the government with an expression of interest in Skeldon Factory, that the rumored expression of interest was just hearsay. Now we learned there exists an MOU for Skeldon with a private investor. In fact there is credible information that the same person has been promised the Enmore Packaging plant. Interestingly, APNU+AFC has advanced the GUYSUCO debt as part of the reason they want to close GUYSUCO. What they failed to state is that almost all of the debt are two paper provisions – debt for pension liability ($33B) and the Government of Guyana debt ($30B). Getting rid of SUGAR will not erase the debt. As a public corporation, GOG will assume the debt, unless they plan to deny sugar workers their pension also. They are caught in a web of lies. No wonder they shy away from talking about sugar.