The Government has announced that a high-level meeting will take place on Saturday, December 31, 2016 to decide the way forward as it relates to the Wales sugar estate.
The disclosure was made yesterday by Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder at the Ministry’s Boardroom, Regent Street and Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, Georgetown.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jadgeo, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence; Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan; and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, as well as union representatives from the Guyana Labour Union, (GLU), Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), and the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) are slated to be present at the meeting.
Meanwhile, an estimated 100 workers from the 1000 work force there at present including the senior staff will be absorbed into the diversification project at the Wales estate, according to the Government Information Agency. Finance Director of GuySuCo, Paul Bhim said several workers have opted for severance and have already been paid.
The question was asked what will happen to the other workers as of January 2017 to which Bhim replied that the factory workers will remain for another month because the factory needs a lot of cleaning. Bhim further explained that the cane harvesters will be transferred to other estates.
Bhim added that workers will also be offered jobs at the Wales location as part of the rice paddy project which has already begun. The Finance Director told media operatives that the rice paddy project will occupy some 220 acres of land at the Wales estate; while several other acres need to be ploughed.
It was highlighted that an aquaculture project is also in the making for the estate, however this projected has not yet been confirmed The Finance Director said that a pre-feasibility study was done and a report was given, while the official feasibility study will take place in January of 2017.
There were also questions as to whether the LBI Estate is up for sale, to which the Finance Director replied in the negative.
Meanwhile clarification was sought as to whether the Skeldon Factory was also up for sale. Minister Holder replied by saying, “I doubt anyone in this world would ever want to buy the factory, they might want to buy the estate, but not the factory.”
Minister Holder explained that the Wales factory is the oldest in the country, and it is inefficient, hence the decision to convert it into a viable alternative. The ministry had earlier stated that the factory would require tremendous amounts of investments to rehabilitate it, investments which the government could not afford.
CALLS FOR ELECTRICITY, WATER SUBSIDIES
Meanwhile, the communities which stand to suffer from the imminent closure of the Wales Sugar Estate factory should be awarded subsidies on essential utilities such as electricity and water. This was the contention of residents in Patentia and Wales, West Bank Demerara (WBD) who vented their frustrations to Opposition Leader Dr Jagdeo on Wednesday.
The Opposition Leader visited the communities and held a meeting with villagers at Patentia in response to definitive moves made by the Guyana Sugar Corporation to shut down the Estate’s factory, premised on the boiling process being completed last Friday. Listening to residents’ concerns on Wednesday afternoon, Jagdeo heard of the impending hardships that various villagers will face after their livelihood is “taken away” by this month-end. The residents pointed to long-standing State subsidies on electricity granted to residents in the mining town of Linden, noting that the same, in addition to water subsidies, should be awarded to WBD communities to offset expenses from January 2017. A male resident echoed the call, pointing out the difficulties that parents will face being without a job and still having to send their children to school.
“Can we fight for subsidy like Linden?” the man asked. After the point was suggested, the Opposition Leader encouraged the gathering at “Big Bridge” Patentia Housing Scheme to have a petition signed by residents across the villages which stand to face the brunt of the closure. Jagdeo suggested that community and religious leaders should front the initiative, which would include all of the demands of residents. The gathering was told that the petition would then be submitted to Government with copies attached to the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) and other international donor agencies.