Speaker disallows request for public forums on future of sugar

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…PPP says Speaker will be found ‘grossly lacking in impartiality’ if he does not review his decision

The Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services has been denied approval by Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, to conduct public forums on the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the sugar industry, following the announcement by Government to downsize it.

In a letter dated June 5 and addressed to Clerk of Committees, Letta Barker, House Speaker Scotland said that a public forum did not seem appropriate for the Committee to undertake.

Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland

“I, therefore, disallow the request and withhold my consent for the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services to conduct public forums under the cover of the National Assembly,” the letter stated.

The Committee had requested since May 31, 2016 to conduct these public forums in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six on specific dates starting from June 7 to June 31, 2017. The request was made under Standing Order (95) 8 and the purpose of the public forums was to receive the views of the various stakeholders in the respective communities and prepare a report to be submitted to the National Assembly.

Following the announcement by Government to close more sugar estates and reduce the annual production of sugar with an overall plan to gradually downsize the industry, there has been much debate about the need for the white paper on sugar to be debated in the National Assembly.

The Opposition Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), in a statement late Monday evening, said that this latest move was seen as “another attack on Parliamentary democracy by the Speaker”.

“Further, we view the rejection of this request, as nothing short of an abuse of power and an undue interference with, and restriction of, the democratic right of Parliamentarians to properly represent their constituents and the reciprocal constitutional rights of these constituents to receive information from and exchange views with their elected representatives,” the Party said.

It was established that since the constitutional creation of the Standing Committees almost two decades ago, they have enjoyed unhindered freedom to discharge their mandate, both within and without the precincts of the National Assembly, without any restriction from the Speaker.

“The nation is very much aware of the public outings of other Sectoral Committees, e.g the Sectoral Committee on Social Services conducts regular visits to public health institutions and other agencies which fall under their portfolio with the permission of the Speaker.”

‘It, therefore, begs the question’, the Party stated as to why this sudden restriction was being placed upon the Economic Services Committee as it sought to discuss the sugar industry, which was so critical to the nation’s economic well-being and which represented the lifeblood of tens of thousands of people.

“The PPP also recalls the difficulties it encountered at the hands of the Speaker in getting motions debated on the floor of the National Assembly in relation to the sugar and rice industries.”

The Party is calling on the Speaker to review his decision forthwith and to grant permission to the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Economic Services to meet with the Guyanese people to discuss the future of GuySuCo and the sugar industry.

“If the Speaker fails to do so, we will find it extraordinarily difficult to persuade our constituents that the chair is not grossly lacking in impartiality,” the statement said.

Government has 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 provided by GuySuCo.

Workers and Communities that would be affected by the downsizing of sugar have come out in droves to protest the move, which conservative estimates say, will leave 10, 000 on the breadline

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder claimed that this process would result in improving the relationship with some cane cutters, estate staff and about 1710 private cane farmers, adding that GuySuCo’s sugar operations will be limited to the Albion-Rose Hall, Blairmont and Uitvlugt-Wales Estates.

The estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all locations, according to the Agriculture Minister.

The Minister had also revealed plans to cut sugar production to approximately 147,000 tonnes per annum.

Several members of the Opposition PPP/C have maintained that the white paper on the industry confirmed that the industry was being “maliciously downsized” as a prelude for closure.

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