Below is an opinion editorial by Dr Leslie Ramsammy on the sugar industry:
Closure of sugar inevitably will increase poverty in Guyana. Although President Granger had emphatically stated in 2015 that sugar is too big to fail and closure is not an option, his APNU+AFC government has pursued a relentless path towards the closure of the sugar industry. His 2015 words have proven to be total lies and, in retrospect, those words now clearly constitute a political “con job”. His co-conspirators in lying to the nation and taking sugar workers and their families as fools were Nagamootoo and Ramjattan who were specifically assigned to the sugar belt to woo sugar workers with BIGLY LIES, such as promises of 20% increase in wages and benefits. All three have been shamelessly silent for months as estate after estate is being closed and thousands of workers are on the bread line. Instead of 20% pay increases, workers have had no pay increases for 2015, 2016 and 2017 and no API in 2016.
As they jet across the world and travel Guyana’s landscape in luxury cars and as Kings and Queens, pounding their chests with their Lamborghini lifestyles, sugar workers, their families and people dependent on the sugar industry are being driven into desperate poverty.
Wales Estate is closed. The threat of closure in June 2015 has become a reality and 1700 workers and their families are in a struggle for survival. The workers who by law are owed severance payments have been denied their legal entitlements. But just in case anyone think that APNU+AFC might be dissuaded from this disastrous path, there is an acceleration of the pace for closure of the sugar industry. Across the sugar industry the evidence is mounting that APNU+AFC is determined that by the end of 2017, only three factories will be in operation – Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. Unfortunately, Uitvlugt may also not survive. Along with these, the ethanol plant at Albion has been abandoned and the Enmore Packaging Plant is on the shopping block.
The Providence (West Canje) sugar cane cultivation, part of the Rose Hall Estate, is closed. No new cane cultivation occurred since June 2015 and all old canes were harvested by the end of the first crop of 2016. Hundreds of persons employed as cane cutters at Providence have been unemployed since the first crop of 2016. Cane cultivation in other parts of the Rose Hall Estate has been reduced in preparation for closure of Canje Estate, one of the more successful sugar estates in Guyana. At least 1500 sugar workers will lose employment. It is now confirmed hat sugar cane cultivation has ceased at LBI and Enmore. It appears as though existing canes are being harvested with no plans for any new cultivation. As with the other estates, hundreds will become unemployed.
In the meantime, APNU+AFC has instructed GUYSUCO to close Skeldon Estate. The first crop has been suspended on the excuse that the boilers at Skeldon Factory have to be repaired. There is ample evidence that the second crop at Skeldon also will be suspended. The Skeldon Factory and its cultivation area are seriously being shopped to either the Indian company (with a Nagamootoo connection) or a Trindadian company with an AFC connection. Another 2000 persons are likely to lose jobs because of the recklessness of APNU+AFC.
Even as thousands of workers are losing their jobs, a small cadre of handpicked persons are being paid millions (close to $150M in 2017) to be the hatchet men. Even as APNU+AFC treats workers like the colonial masters once did and even as they accelerate the closure of this industry, they have no plans for the workers and no plans to deal with the social and economic impact of closure of the sugar industry.
The downgrading of sugar has already left a huge vacuum in the country’s foreign currency earnings. The present depreciation of the Guyana dollar is no accident and whatever are the several reasons for the falling Guyana dollar, sugar’s decline has a big role. Few have considered the impact on the small family businesses in the sugar belts. The community markets are dying, the small cake shops and grocery shops are in decline. Cash crop farmers are feeling the pinch as commodity prices hit new lows. Importantly, the manufacturing industry is already feeling the impact. With closure of sugar, Guyana will face a growth in its sugar imports and higher prices and the cost of production of beverages, pastries and other confectionary products will increase.
One of the great dilemmas that the government has not considered in all these areas is drainage and irrigation which GUYSUCO has borne responsibility for as part of the cost of sugar production. The ending of cane cultivation will not end or reduce the cost of drainage and irrigation in these communities. The government through its national and local responsibilities will have to assume this cost.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy