LETTER: President Granger should seek to engage communities affected by the closure of sugar estates

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From reports appearing in several sections of the media, our Union, and more so thousands of jobless sugar workers, learnt that President David Granger reportedly said, according to a section of the media that “…payment of severance to thousands of ex sugar workers is drawing funding away from services”. We found the President’s remarks most unfortunate and we see it as yet another means to find a scapegoat for his Administration’s failure to deliver on its promises and commitments. Added to that, it serves to remind us about the Government’s uncaring and scant concern for the thousands of Guyanese who have been affected by the APNU+AFC ill-considered policy to minimize the sugar industry.

For us, it is saddening, that while the President is going around saying that his Administration’s settlement of its statutory obligation to the workers is taking away from other areas, he seems to ignore, maybe conveniently, that he heads the largest and most expensive bureaucracy in our nation’s history.

Today, our people are forced to sustain fifteen (15) Ministries headed by twenty-seven (27) Ministers who are accompanied by a platoon of advisors, assistants and other support staff. Today, our people are made to fund a super-salaried Cabinet who apart from a 50 per cent pay rise receive superb benefits such as medical treatment in exotic locales like Ireland; stupendous allowances when travelling abroad, in addition to state-paid various services including security and not to mention government-provided vehicles. Today, our people are footing the bills for the ‘greening’ of perfectly good buildings; the construction of immaculate fences; a rarely used drill square, or the hefty-rental of bottom-house drug bond. Today, while the Administration is ignoring its legal obligations to the beleaguered workers of Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara, and Wales, His Excellency, now the Head of State for 40 months, has, reportedly, been abroad for more than 40 occasions and his Administration, this year, budgeted to expend a billion dollars on overseas travel. Are these the priorities that the workers obligations are sucking from?

But more than that, President Granger, who has said he is very busy with several matters, should heed calls and find the time to visit the communities of the now-closed estates and engage the workers and their families. From those visits he will learn from the people what the closure decision sucked away from them. From those engagements, he would come to know that workers have serious difficulties to eat; that they are unable to pay their bills; or they cannot simply afford to send their children to school. From those visits, he will hear about the family separations and their impact; he would come to know of the physiological and physical toll of losing the only job you know about; and he would be told about emptiness that has been created since the closure. It is indeed dismaying that His Excellency seemingly cannot find the time to visit these Guyanese who are facing the most difficult of times.

 We also saw the President saying he didn’t blame the workers or the Corporation or the previous administration. We believe it would be disingenuous for the President to cast blame in that direction. The President, we hold, can only point a finger of blame at himself or his colleagues who sit around the Cabinet table with him. It was his Government that chose to shutter the estates, in the first place. Certainly the short-sighted decision gave rise to the legal obligation to pay severance to those who stood to be affected. There are no ifs, buts or maybes and this is clear as day and without doubt. A prudent Administration would have recognized this reality and accordingly provided the payment but, as we have seen time and again, our Government continues to show us how inept and ill-considerate it can be.

 We cannot ignore too, that the Administration, it seems, is preparing to wash its hands of the workers and their families and their communities when and after it settles the outstanding payments. If this is indeed the case, then this would be a most disturbing development. The Government has a moral obligation to ensure that the workers and their communities return to their feet and have a sustainable future especially recognizing that it was their decision that snatched away a livelihood from the people. This is the role of any Government and the Administration should not ignore this important responsibility.

 Yours faithfully,

 Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

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