Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan has admitted that his party played an integral role in the decision to close sugar estates across the country – a move which affected thousands of Guyanese and which was widely criticised by stakeholders.
“When the sugar sector decision was made to close estates and factories and merge some of them, it was primarily the AFC who was a big part of that decision,” Ramjattan said during a Globespan 24×7 programme on Wednesday.
“Myself, Mr [Prime Minister Moses] Nagamootoo, and a whole host of other AFC members were part of that decision,” the AFC Leader declared.
He was at the time responding to a question posed by the moderator, who asked why the AFC has not represented the thousands of workers – where the party’s support base lies – who were negatively affected when the estates were closed.
But according to Ramjattan, “nobody was disenfranchised.” He contended that an “economic decision” had to be made for the sugar sector.
“So, it was not a PNC decision that we were forced to accept,” Ramjattan contended.
In 2016, the Government announced the closure of the first sugar estate located at Wales on the West Bank of Demerara (WBD).
The move was made despite the fact that Government spent millions of dollars to hold a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which recommended that there be no closure of the sugar estates.
Estates at Enmore, Skeldon and Rose Hall were subsequently shut down – triggering widespread controversy.
More than 10,000 persons have been directly and indirectly affected by the closure of these estates.
Nearly 4000 workers from Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon were dismissed in late 2017, and over 1000 were dismissed from Wales in the previous year.
Cottage industries that were once thriving in some of the communities in close proximity to the estates are now dying as spending power has been significantly diminished among the local populace.
Retrenched workers, most of whom were breadwinners of their families, are still struggling to find a steady job – despite several piecemeal initiatives rolled out by the Government.
Despite calls by stakeholders, the Government refused to conduct a socioeconomic study before closing the estates.
In fact, an executive member of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) – a member of the coalition Government – had blasted the APNU/AFC for not conducting social impact assessments before making such a decision.
“I think that when you are making decisions to lay off so many people, you have to think about the impact of families and on communities; and I think the decision makers did not put enough thought into that impact, and we are clearly seeing that here,” Hinds had expressed during an event at Patentia – a community neighbouring Wales.
The rippling effects of the closure of the sugar estates can be seen in those communities, especially in the commercial districts where activities have practically been ground to a halt.
Market areas which were once bustling are now almost isolated. In some cases, families face a daily struggle in finding a way to send their children to school.
Government had eventually arranged a $30 billion bond, guaranteed by the State and National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) assets, to recapitalise the sugar sector.
But to date, little information is available on how the money was spent.