Afro-Guyanese have not been targeted for termination of defunct Co-op Societies – Hamilton

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Statement from Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton

I wish to respond to the sixth paragraph of a letter which was entitled “African Guyanese have been disproportionately targeted for termination in the public sector” published in the “Letter Column” of the Stabroek News dated Sunday, February 28, 2021 under the signature of Lincoln Lewis. This paragraph states in part that “It is fact the Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton (another African) is now threatening to go after defunct co-operative societies to close them rather than help to launch an investigation into the reason(s) for their non-functioning. Any caring government, recognizing this sector has been the major pillar of African empowerment, would seek to render assistance to resuscitate not close them”.

I, Joseph Hamilton, Minister of Labour and Member of Parliament, wish to emphatically state that this statement is not based on truth. Additionally, it should be noted that the information posited by Mr. Lewis is misleading since the facts will show that Co-operative Societies in Guyana are comprised of individuals from the various ethnic groups. Further, cognizance should be taken of the fact that a Cooperative and Friendly Society can only be dissolved in accordance with Section 38 of the Cooperative Societies Act, Chapter 88:01 and Section 55 of the Friendly Societies Act, Chapter 36:04 respectively.

On the 6th day of August 2020, I arrived at the Department of Labour tasked with restructuring that Department into a Ministry. In an attempt to do such, I travelled the length and breadth of Guyana to fully understand what this newly established Ministry would have responsibility over.

During my travels, naturally I encountered many men and women of differing races, socio economic background, etc. What I did not expect to encounter was the grave atrocities within some Co-operative Societies, to which my staff and I are now accountable for.

I was provided with a financial spreadsheet which detailed the allocation of monies to the various Co-op Societies and more specifically, what the monies were allocated to purchase. I saw that monies were dispatched for the purchase of pigs but upon arrival at the location where the pigs were to be housed my team and I saw no pigs but merely empty pens. Apparently, all the “piggies” went to the market and none were afforded the opportunity to stay at home. The profits at the market are unaccounted for.

Another instance which baffles me until this day is, hundreds of thousands of dollars were allotted for the purchase of sheep.  When my staff and I visited the facilities, which housed the sheep what we saw could barely be considered a ‘flock’. I am not a mathematician but from the of money that was allocated to purchase sheep, it was quite obvious that there was a substantial portion of that money unaccounted for.

I discovered Co-op societies with poultry farmers out of the country, manure facilities with no manure, block making machines that are ancient and dress making Co-op Societies with machines that cannot be used for sewing. All taxpayers’ money wasted, squandered, unaccounted for by these Co-op Societies.

As the Minister of Labour with responsibility for Co-operatives, it is my duty to ensure that if monies are allocated to a Co-operative Society to be used in a specified way, then  it is required that the monies should be used for that purpose and an accurate account of its use be provided by that Society.

It is after the discovery of these irregularities some months back that the Ministry decided to conduct an Integrity Audit of all Co-op Societies. This Audit will be conducted by independent Auditors as provided for by Section 35 of Co-operative Societies Act Cap 88:01.  It is being done to ascertain the present status of Societies which will determine their future, since the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Cooperative and Friendly Societies will be embarking on a revitalization and a resuscitation process for Societies.

The outcome of this Integrity Audit can lead to training for members of the Societies by the Board of Industrial Training (BIT), a Body Corporate and Training Agency under the Ministry of Labour. BIT has been mandated to implement specific Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes for Co-operative Societies.

The societies that are to benefit from this activity will be strengthened through training to facilitate Economic Sustainability and Community Livelihood Engagement. For example, following a visit on Friday, January 29, 2021 to the KIRBY Co-operative society located at Plantation Ross Village, West Coast Berbice, a skill assessment was subsequently conducted. BIT in collaboration with the Co-Operative Department at the Ministry of Labour will implement Garment Construction and Commercial Food Preparation programmes for that society.

Similarly, several other societies will benefit from collaborative training programmes implemented by BIT and it must be known that all training will be unique to the needs of the individual society. Moreover, these actions seek to offer assistance that will lead to the sustainability of the society.

Interventions are also being made at the Martindale Hackney Coop Society Limited which is located in the Lower Homeroom, (Region Two). Skills training is being offered in Argo- Processing to that Society thereby, paving the way for beneficiaries to be able to add value to their farm produce by using processing techniques, labelling and packaging. Likewise, at the Women’s Multipurpose Co-op Society in Lima Sands, on the Essequibo Coast, training is being offered in Catering and Cake decoration. This group’s main activity is the baking of bread. However, with these new skills, they will be able to produce more products including pastries and other items. It must however be noted that both of these programmes started in the last quarter of 2020.

On completion of the audits of Societies and the conduct of training programmes where necessary, this Ministry will, if the need arises, exercise the powers given to us under the legislation, i.e., Dissolution of the Co-op [Section 38 of the Co-operative Societies Act Cap 88:01] or Cancellation of Registration [Section 39 of the Co-operative Societies Act Cap 88:01].

Let me make this very pellucid that The Ministry of Labour and the Department of Cooperative and Friendly Societies are in no way politically and/ or racially bias, since Sections 38 and Section 55 of the Cooperative Societies Act Chapter 88:01 and the Friendly Societies Act, Chapter 36:04 respectively could have been invoked and dissolved selected Societies. THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED.

I wish to point out that the INTEGRITY AUDIT will not be done in isolation, but with an EXPRESSION OF INTEREST which will be published in Five (5) Newspapers and will be conducted in all Societies in all ten Administrative Regions and not selected societies in specific Regions which can be deemed political and/or racial.

Finally, it should be noted that since August 02, 2020, the Department of Cooperative and Friendly Societies has registered twelve (12) Cooperative and four (4) Friendly Societies in which ninety percent of those societies comprised members predominantly of African descent. So, Mr. Lewis it is advisable that you do your research and get the facts before publishing mischief that can create political and racial tensions among Guyanese.