By Ramona Luthi
As day two of the 2018 Budget debate continues, Opposition Member of Parliament and Former Minister, Dr Frank Anthony on Monday directed his presentation towards the defence of the thousands of sugar workers who have and who will been made jobless under the coalition Administration.
According to Anthony, the year 2018 should be renamed the ‘Year of Retrenchment’ since thousands of Estate workers will be on the breadline.
“Mr speaker, I shudder to think what next year would bring when thousands of workers will be kicked off the estates. Perhaps we should go back to that old PNC tradition of naming the various years after some kind of slogan or theme, and maybe I have a proposal for the Government. They should name next year 2018 the year of retrenchment,” he said.
He asserted that in addition to the obvious assault on the Sugar Industry continuing unabated, the Government seems to have adopted a new narrow minded approach to sugar as they strive to unilaterally shut down major parts of the industry “in the name of saving a few miserly dollars.”
“Thousands of sugar workers will be sacrificed to save the industry. Those innocent sugar workers and their families will become collateral damage in a spate of vindictive politics,” he told the House on Tuesday morning while explaining that “instead of helping or lending a helping hand to the industry, they [Government] prefers to kick the people and the industry while [it is] is down.
“ …As we speak, hundreds of sugar workers have received their Christmas gifts from APNU-AFC, or should I say from Santa Slause or maybe Santa Coalition- kicking them out on the streets to scrounge for a living. Is this the APNU-AFC good life?” Anthony questioned.
Moreover, the Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) reprimanded the Government on failing to keep their promises made to sugar workers in their 2015 campaign trial.
“Go the communities, go to the Sugar Estates, go to the surrounding areas and speak with the people, the workers feel absolutely betrayed because on the campaign trail in 2015, they [Government] were promising the sugar workers a 20 per cent increase in their salaries, [and] now as the backstabbing drama unfolds, they cannot even give the workers catahar! That is what they can’t give them. Nothing!…instead they are kicking them out on the road. Is this the good life?”
Furthermore, Anthony chastised the Government Ministers who had previously claimed to be “Champions of Sugar Workers” as he questioned “what are they championing now?”
He also probed the House to disclose the plans for the Sugar workers who will be out of jobs next year.
“Where are the plans for the sugar industry? Is there a plan to retrain the sugar workers? Is there a plan to help the sugar workers find new jobs? Is there a plan to give the sugar workers soft loans so that they can start a business? Is there a plan to give the sugar workers land on these estates? Where are these plans? Mr Speaker, is there a social net to help these families transition through these difficult times?”
He pointed out as well that while the sugar workers will be suffering and on the bread line, the very Ministers are enjoying the nice perks and fat salaries.
“Martin Carter once said that the mouth is muzzled by the food it eats. Perhaps many of the so called Champions of the Workers are muzzled by the pay they’re getting,” he posited.
As he closed on the topic, Anthony expressed hope that in the spirit of the season, not only will good will and generosity prevail, but that “good sense” may also prevail in the Government.
Downsizing Agri Sector
Despite Government’s claims of having intentions to expand Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry in 2018, Anthony is of the belief that the Budget 2018 presentations combined with actions of the Administration tells a different story.
In his debate presentation in Parliament on Tuesday, Anthony explained that for the period 2016 to 2017, there was a $1.8 billion cut in the budget allocations for Agriculture and this decrease has grown according to the provisions for the sector in 2018.
“From 2016 to 2017, there was a $1.8B cut in the agriculture budget, from 2017 to 2018 there will be a further cut, or perhaps a chop by $2.3B. Agriculture has the distinction of being the only sector that has consistently received a cut in budget allocations since APNU-AFC took office. This clearly shows the Government’s intentions of downsizing, de-emphasizing and perhaps downgrading agriculture,” he told the House.
Agriculture employs approximately 21 per cent of the workforce in Guyana.
In his Budget 2018 presentations last week, Finance Minister, Winston Jordan had said that a total of $19.4 billion has been allocated to the agriculture sector, for 2018 to improve the competitiveness of farmers, through diversification and agro-processing.
Further, Government had said this amount will be invested to facilitate the development of the Savannahs; stimulate growth in agro-processing; expand our investment in non-traditional crops, livestock, extension services, and further research; and consolidate our drainage and irrigation services.