The passivity of the Alliance For Change (AFC) in the face of the move to close sugar estates and issue redundancy letters to thousands of workers was vigorously defended by that party’s co-founder, Khemraj Ramjattan, who has insisted that Guyana’s sugar sector has a terminal illness that the Government cannot cure.
He made this statement during his opening contribution to the 2018 budget debates in the National Assembly on Thursday.
Despite a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry having recommended that no estates be closed, Ramjattan invoked that very CoI to support his contention.
“This party must make hard decisions in relation to sugar. And so it is important that when you do the analysis, as the Commission of Inquiry had done — when you did the consultation with NAACIE and GAWU, and when you have all the facts; like a good judge you, have to make a decision as to where it will go from there,” Ramjattan said.
“And we have made the decision that we are going to ensure that we lighten the transition, knowing that we cannot continue to pour money into that industry. It is important that all of them will be better for it in the long term. It is a terminal illness, in relation to sugar today; it is not (attracting) the price it used to have internationally.”
Addressing the Opposition, Ramjattan quipped that “If you win the elections in 2020, you can bring back sugar. And you want bet me, you can’t bring it back!”
In May 2017, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall sugar estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, had said at a post-Cabinet press briefing that closure of the sugar estates would be pushed back to 2018. Harmon had said that closure of the Rose Hall Estate in East Canje, Berbice would occur sometime next year.
With regard to the Skeldon and Enmore estates, he had said that the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) would have to conduct evaluations, surveys and inventory assessments before any steps are taken to actually sell those estates.
Recently, the minister had also stated that before GuySuCo had moved to issue redundancy letters to the affected sugar workers, such a major decision should have at least been discussed with the other Cabinet members, so as to plan accordingly. He said he believes that at least some kind of notification ought to have been given to the workers who are being made redundant.
It was recently reported that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has submitted a proposal for the acquisition of the East Coast Demerara Estate.
Last month, GuySuCo announced plans to retrench 2500 workers by the end of this year. GAWU says the downsizing and subsequent closure of sugar estates would lead to the loss of more than 15,000 jobs, and the potential threat of poverty for between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Ramjattan in his Budget presentation was also subjected to resounding heckles from the parliamentary Opposition regarding the AFC’s relevance as a coalition partner. This is after months of being sidelined from major decisions by APNU, but the minister was adamant that the AFC still has a purpose in the coalition party.
“I want to say that our country took a turn for the better in 2015 because of certain decisions made by (us). We started talks with the APNU. And today we are here. Your remarks that we are being chewed up is not true,” Ramjattan stated.
In an effort to bolster AFC’s prominence within the coalition Administration, Ramjattan pointed to Minister of Public Infrastructure, former AFC General Secretary David Patterson. He also referred to Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman and Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who was consistently heckled and referred to as a “rubber stamp” by Opposition members, was also held up by Ramjattan as an example of the AFC’s vibrancy and involvement in Government.
“We are doing (things) with our coalition partner that will (benefit) Guyana. Greater things will come with the oil sector. And so I wish to make that point.”
Over the past months since the coalition Government has been in power, the AFC has been repeatedly sidelined by the APNU. The most recent incident was the sidelining of the AFC nominee for the post of Commissioner on the Guyana Elections Commission in favour of a WPA member.
A move that AFC leader Trotman had condemned, stating that his party being side-lined is an “on-going saga,” while reiterating that the AFC is “deeply disturbed” and “disappointed.”