LETTER: Where was the solidarity when over 7000 sugar workers were dismissed?

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Dear Editor,

How do we rationalise the unconscionable attacks being meted out to our dismissed sugar workers from the APNU/AFC and its supporters? Those who are engaged in these attack must do an analysis of the billions squandered by the coalition.

Let’s look at this in perspective. We have seen that the same coalition who wanted GuySuCo to be the “sugar bowl” of the Caribbean had systematically and clinically begun a decimation of the industry since 2016, resulting in the dismissal of more than 7000 workers with a more devastating domino effect.

These are some of the same workers who assisted to put the coalition in power in 2015, having promised them that no estates would be closed, they would receive 20 per cent increase in wages and salaries, and the coalition held a conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre in August 2015 where the former Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, made a vow that “Government will not abandon sugar in troubled times..the focus is to make sugar work. We have too many workers who stand to lose with the collapse of the industry. This government will not allow sugar to sink”. But by now everyone knows that that was just one of his trademark vacuous spins. In the same vein, the former Agriculture Minister, Mr Holder, had submitted that the CoI would provide a course for the industry for the period spanning 2016 to 2030 which would “improve the structure of the industry, including the environment for innovation and sustainability”. Can the coalition and its supporters recall this?

It is now a sad reminder that the findings of the multi-million dollar coalition-sponsored CoI were unceremoniously dumped and a meaningless White Paper provided for the closure of the estates. This caused the sugar workers to finally come to the realisation that the coalition was only for themselves and in the 2016 Local Government Elections, it was clear that many of those who voted for that coalition were moving away.

The PPP/C won 123,564 votes while the APNU/AFC gained just 98,670 votes, a defeat by 24,894 votes. This margin got bigger in 2018. The PPP/C won 122,307 whilst the APNU garnered just 68,060 and its dying partner could only muster 8719 votes. The margin of defeat for the coalition then was a whopping 45,528 votes! It was a clear signal that the populace had lost confidence in not only the AFC but the APNU as well. It must be reminded that the coalition had controversially won the 2015 elections by just 5360 votes. In 2020, the PPP/C returned to power with an overwhelming majority of 15,416 votes. The coalition was quickly losing support.

It then dawned on the coalition that those who voted for the PPP/C must be punished and as a result, just after the 2016 Local Government Elections, Wales became the first victim. This was followed by Rose Hall Estate, which was scheduled to be closed in December 2017 but pushed back to 2018 and then quickly followed Skeldon Estate. One does not need a crystal ball to figure out why the coalition lost the 2018 LGE by a whopping 45,529 votes. This was not just sugar, the devastating tsunami of corruption and incompetence was engulfing all the sectors.

This massive corruption and incompetence were starkly highlighted during the just concluded 2020 Budget debate. The amount of taxpayers’ dollars stolen or ill-spent amounted to billions of dollars, yet the coalition can only see that $3 billion allocated to the reopening of the closed estates are monies which have been thrust into a “dark hole”. It is disappointing that one group of workers will go against another group of dismissed workers who have been starving for more than 3 years, not counting the multitudes who depended on these estates. One of the nurses echoed the APNU/AFC’s stance on sugar by stating that, “Why open back a failing industry-sugar? You’re spending billions on sugar when the healthcare workers are not being addressed.

Come on! What is sugar doing for the public when healthcare workers are putting their lives at risk?” This is how callous and heartless one group of persons can be to another group who has been suffering for so long. Imagine these public servants have been receiving wage increases whilst the sugar workers who are employed have not been the recipients of such benevolence from the coalition.

President Ali justifiably asked the question: “Where was the solidarity when more than 7000 sugar workers were sent home? What was the situation then? Where was the solidarity when 1000 bauxite workers lost their jobs? There was no socio-economic analysis of the impact of the closure of the estimates. We are missing that. We don’t want to answer that question anymore.”

I wish to submit to these “re-awakened”’ politically-influenced nurses that the APNU/AFC has squandered more than $1.5 trillion over their term in office with nothing tangible to show. This includes billions just blatantly stolen from the Treasury. I will just list a few: the nearly $400 million spent to rent a bond to store condoms; the ‘spending’ of $1.6 billion to commission the Ocean View ‘shell’; the nearly $1 billion in expired drugs; the astronomical prices paid for drugs; the CT machine stored at a cost of $174 million; the Larry London multi-million dollar swindle; the D’Urban Park swindle; the CJIA swindle; the Demerara Bridge feasibility swindle; and the list goes on and on. In every sphere of Government, there was thievery and corruption and these could have allowed the closed estates to remain open and pay everyone wages and salaries increase including these striking nurses.

This Government is a peoples’ Government which is chartering a course to benefit every Guyanese and some must realise that whilst their pots remained filled, many pots went empty and any caring Government must address the have nots as a priority measure. Those whose pots have been filled must exercise some patience so that their brothers and sisters who are starving can be given some bread as well.

The 2020 Budget itself will see the return of more than $20 billion into Guyanese pockets and this will benefit every Guyanese. How can any reasonable minded person castigate the Government for reaching out to bring bread on the table for a group of people who have been deliberately allowed to suffer immensely under the previous Government? What wrong has these sugar workers committed? It is the coalition who have wronged these people and amends must be made. As the Minister of Agriculture had reiterated, sugar is more than the balance sheet and the sooner this is understood the better thinking some people will become.

It is time that we be our brother’s keeper and stop regurgitating the unconscionable political rhetoric spewed by the APNU/AFC. To cause division among our people should not be the agenda of a caring Opposition party.

Yours sincerely,

Haseef Yusuf