OPINION: APNU+AFC seems determined to end sugar in Guyana

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By Dr Leslie Ramsammy

Just before the May 2015 General Elections, I warned that the Granger-led APNU+AFC had a sinister plan to close the sugar industry (SUGAR) in Guyana. President David Granger and PM Moses Nagamootoo vehemently denied any plans to close sugar. In their four years in Government, they have downsized SUGAR by more than 50%, as a first step towards the goal to close sugar. As General elections loom again in Guyana, I again repeat my warning, APNU+AFC is determined to end SUGAR in Guyana.

APNU+AFC is deliberately mismanaging GUYSUCO, engineering its excuse to close SUGAR. While three sugar estates continue to operate, APNU+AFC is keen on finding an excuse to also close these estates. For more than 300 years, SUGAR was the most important industry in Guyana. The potential for SUGAR being an important industry for many decades more in Guyana still exists. It is foolhardy and reckless for anyone to give up on SUGAR. APNU+AFC wants to end SUGAR in Guyana for political reasons, resulting from their anti-Jagan, anti-PPP obsession. But while spiteful and petty, closure of SUGAR in Guyana, with downsizing as a first step, has horrendous consequences, the Guyanese people being collateral damage.

For example, the starting of SUGAR closure, at the end of 2015, precipitated an unemployment problem. Four years into the APNU+AFC term in office, Guyana is mired in an unemployment crisis, a crisis that started in 2015 and catapulted in 2016 by the closure of the first of the four sugar estates that are now closed. The total closure of SUGAR, if the Guyanese people allow APNU+AFC to achieve this goal, will mean that the unemployment crisis will be sustained for generations to come. OIL will not be able to rescue us.

Even as RUSAL is threatening to close operations in Guyana, causing a loss of another 500 jobs, GUYSUCO, still the largest single employer in Guyana, is bleeding from deliberate mismanagement, facing a precarious future. The last four years have not been good news for GUYSUCO and for employment in Guyana. More than 37,000 jobs have been lost, according to conservative estimates, with SUGAR accounting for more than 7,000 direct jobs and many thousands more indirectly. With the uncertainty of elections, a constitutional crisis after March 21st and possibly an illegal government by then, business activities have dropped by as much as 50%, with hundreds being laid off.

Meanwhile, Guyanese are dismayed at the sustained ugly disinterest APNU+AFC has shown towards GUYSUCO. This deliberate disinterest by the Government and, particularly, by the Minister of Agriculture, has contributed to the overall mismanagement and incompetence in the operations of GUYSUCO. Even as the operating estates are bleeding for more machinery, such as tractors, excavators etc., SPU/NICIL are selling off these same machinery, already owned by GUYSUCO, from the closed estates. This is not incompetence and mismanagement, it is deliberate suffocation. The reported theft of significant amounts of sugar produced at the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate, far from being an isolated case, is symptomatic  of every day, niggling and serious problems impacting the industry. These mounting problems will continue as disinterest sickens the industry.

While insisting the treasury will not invest in GUYSUCO, APNU+AFC, curiously, allowed SPU/NICIL to borrow $30B on behalf of GUYSUCO. No one knows where the money is and what the SPU has done with the money. In the midst of suspicion and anger about the whereabouts of the money and what it is being used for, GUYSUCO continues to claim they have not benefitted from any serious influx of funding from the $30B. Several weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition had to ask publicly for an explanation and the whereabouts of the $30B. I have continued to ask for some more than a year now the same question – where is the $30B?

The President has ignored these questions. APNU+AFC behaves as if it is no one’s business to ask. The Minister of Agriculture has made clear he has no idea where the money is, why the loan was taken and by whom and emphatically pronounced he does not want to know. Ignoring the queries from the workers, from the trade unions and from the management of GUYSUCO is inexcusable, but behaving as if citizens have no right to know the whereabouts of one of the biggest single loan ever in Guyanese history is political malfeasance and corruption at the highest level.

Just this week, GUYSUCO’s management, out of utter frustration, berated the relationship with the SPU/NICIL, particularly with the SPU head, who is also now the acting head of NICIL. This same man, about a year ago, announced and published a whole page advertisement that there was a new GUYSUCO Board to replace the Clive Thomas-led, Cabinet-appointed Board. The Minister of the Presidency was forced to disown the SPU-appointed Board. It took the cabinet almost a year after that to itself appoint a new board. Cabinet announced they will clarify who was in charge, the Ministry of Agriculture or SPU/NICIL. Nothing has happened. Such risible behavior makes a mockery of one of the largest industries in Guyana, unless it is a deliberate strategy to end SUGAR.

The treatment of GUYSUCO by the SPU/NICIL, the disinterest in GUYSUCO by the Government, in fact,  reflect the long-standing strategy of the PNC to end SUGAR in Guyana. It said so in 2014 and now in government for four years, APNU+AFC has done everything to end SUGAR. Just like the Government’s deliberate strategy towards a constitutional crisis in its management of the elections timeline, the Government’s seeming disinterest is a deliberate strategy to end SUGAR. Clearly, APNU+AFC appears to have engineered an economic strategy in which OIL is the new economic pillar and that Guyana’s economy will be an OIL economy. There is no future for SUGAR under APNU+AFC.

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