LETTER: Very heartened that the President has decided to reopen the estates

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Dear Editor,

The GAWU saw President Irfaan Ali, in the September 23, Stabroek News, saying that the trail of destruction in the sugar industry left by the Coalition was like a hurricane.

The President’s description is indeed fitting. It provides a jarring picture of the damage the APNU+AFC inflicted on GuySuCo, and more so on thousands of sugar workers and their families. And it is against this background that we believe the industry is probably at its lowest point.

With the last five (5) years of deliberate undermining, the true situation has now fully unveiled itself. We were aware that the situation was acute, but we were simply flabbergasted to learn that essential equipment and implements were simply not there. Our Union did disclose, sometime ago, that the NICIL and its creature called SPU were liquidating moveable assets at fire sale prices. Clearly, in our view, the ‘slash and burn’ approach to sugar was done with one sole intention; that is, to cripple the industry to the point of no return. This was achieved at Wales, and as the President indicated, the resumption of operations will see Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore Estates having to be rebuilt from the ground up.

On this score, we were heartened to learn that the President is more imbued to bring the estates back to life, and to put those sent on the breadline back to work. We hold that where there is a will there is a way, and the President has demonstrated his willingness not only to reopen the estates, but make the sugar industry viable and sustainable.

As the GAWU had pointed out time and again, the sugar industry has several worthwhile opportunities for a secure future. But while the President rightly speaks to the hurricane that swept through the estates, it was a massive tsunami which fell on the heads of thousands of workers and their families, who were placed on the breadline.

Arising from the GAWU’s representation, the ILO commissioned a socio-economic study on the closed estates. That report, which is presently being finalised, made some important findings. The data collected through focus groups revealed that incomes among those laid off have fallen by a staggering sixty-four (64) per cent.

At the same time, sixty-two (62) per cent of those interviewed revealed that their children’s educational pursuits have been compromised, as eighty-one (81) per cent of the workers interviewed hadn’t been able to find full time jobs. At Wales, for instance, three (3) years after that estate closed, as many as sixty (60) per cent of the workers remained unemployed.

The study found, unsurprisingly, that crime and alcoholism went up. When those interviewed were asked to express their apprehensions about the future on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most worrisome, almost unanimously, those interviewed expressed their anxieties as a 10. It is a clear indicator as to how deeply the estates were to the workers and how large of a vacuum closure created. The study found, too, that many persons have had to leave the communities in search of jobs elsewhere.

The study, and more so its findings, is yet another indicator of the importance of the sugar industry to Guyana and Guyanese. It demonstrates the correctness of the decision to reopen the estates closed by the Coalition, and to revitalise, as a whole, the entire industry. It was, for us, most disturbing when we continue to see the anti-sugar venom being demonstrated by the Coalition, now in Opposition.

The September 18 Guyana Chronicle reported that Mr Khemraj Ramjattan labelled the reopening as the Government rewarding its base. It was that narrow, small-minded and perverted thinking that caused Mr Ramjattan to support hook – line and sinker – that closure in the first place. We would have thought that, having seen the full impact of that decision, he would have recognised the wisdom in the decision to resuscitate the industry. But it appears that the erstwhile gentleman is still blinded by his blinkers, and rather wishes to see thousands of Guyanese being pushed into misery and impoverishment. It is that sort of thinking that distinguishes so-called leaders from genuine leaders.

The Opposition’s spitefulness continued, as Mr Jermaine Figueira, according to a September 22 Demerara Waves report, wanted to speak about costs in the sugar industry. We had to wonder to ourselves whether Mr Figueira was really serious. It was Mr Figueira’s party, when in Government, that brought sugar to its knees. It was Mr Figueira’s party which starved the industry of capital, although it borrowed billions. It was Mr Figueira’s party which discriminated against the sugar workers. It was Mr Figueira party which allowed GuySuCo’s assets to be used as personal belongings of some. It was under Mr Figueira party that sugar production plummeted 60% in five (5) years, and recorded last year the lowest production in more than eighty (80) years. And now Mr Figueira, with a straight face, wants to talk about costs after bastardisation of the sugar industry over the last five (5) years?

So, while the Opposition may want to engage in a hue and cry about sugar, it is the people that matter, it is they and their families who have lost, and have lost dearly, for that matter. The creation of thousands of jobs will provide massive spin-off effects not only for the sugar belt, but for the entire economy. Billions of dollars more will flow through the economy. People will regain that pride they once had, and people will again be able to put their lives back together.

So, while there are an unimportant few who will try to denigrate the decision of the Ali Administration, the people are wiser, and will ignore their superfluous harping and needless buzzing.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

GAWU