(The following is an opinion piece on the current state of the sugar industry, penned by Dr Leslie Ramsammy)
The ongoing SUGAR siege in Guyana has intensified. APNU+AFC has taken advantage of the population’s riveting focus on the Parking Meter scandal and spiraling crime around the country to accelerate the demise of sugar in Guyana. In the last week they quietly announced the shelving of first crop operations at Skeldon and refused severance payments to workers from the closed Wales Estate.
The Skeldon Factory suspension of operation for the present crop has not made big news because last week APNU+AFC sneaked in the announcement while people were occupied with resisting the Parking Meter monster and while crime gripped the nation. No explanation has been proffered for the shelving of the first sugar crop at Skeldon, but many of us are suspicious that this is a deliberate strategy to further under-value Skeldon as they prepare to give it away to one of their favored investors.
Essentially, GUYSUCO’s operations at Skeldon is winding down, ostensibly in preparation to hand over operations to one of two private investors – either to the AFC-favored Trinidadian auto parts dealer or the Nagamootoo-favored Indian Company. APNU+AFC seems determined to hand over operations to one of these favored investors on terms favorable to the investors.
This is the only plausible explanation for the deliberate under-valuing of Skeldon. Seems senseless, but there is actually method to their madness. Under-valuing Skeldon means that the investor will obtain a prime national asset for a “song”. But in addition those who are giving away this national asset expects to benefit. Guyana will lose again. This is yet another corrupt deal in the making, but unlike the others which we found out after the fact, this one has been exposed beforehand.
In the meanwhile, the Wales fiasco gets worse. Workers who are entitled by law to severance have had their rights railroaded as APNU+AFC’s clueless Minister of Agriculture announced that the workers must take up jobs at Uitvlugt Sugar Estate. Should the workers refuse this offer, they would have forfeited all rights as sugar workers. This is an high-handed, dictatorial response from the regime, but squarely in keeping with the assault on sugar that began on day one of the APNU+AFC administration.
As of right now the scorecard is despicable. Wales Estate has closed. Sugar cane cultivation at Providence (part of the Rose Hall, Canje Estate) and LBI has been terminated. Sugar cane cultivation at Rose Hall has contracted, as is sugar cultivation at Skeldon. Operations at Skeldon Factory has now been suspended, perhaps permanently. The ethanol plant at Albion has been abandoned. Sugar packaging at Enmore has been in hiatus, perhaps because they are making preparation for its privatization. Rose Hall Factory is slated for closure in 2017.
Sugar workers have not been given a wage increase for 2015, 2016 and already in jeopardy for no wage increase in 2017. They received a reduced Annual Production Incentive in 2015 and zero for 2016 and 2017 seems poised for another zero payment. But the Board of GUYSUCO is one of the highest remunerated boards in Guyana and the management team is one of the highest paid in the country. Something is wrong with this dismal picture.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy