Government has affirmed that there will be no further consultation and debate on the future of the local sugar industry, because it said all such undertakings have already taken place before the white paper which detailed several changes on sugar was laid in the National Assembly.
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has also maintained that the white paper came out after public consultations were held, and he deemed it the end product of a long process, which lasted for about two years.
He recalled that the Parliamentary Economic Services Committee examined the state of the industry and invited comments from all stakeholders, including members of the public.
“They received a lot of views from members of the public,” he claimed, stating that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has also been engaged in several public meetings with members of the various communities where sugar estates are still in operation and workers are attached to the corporation.
Holder said, “That has always been part of the process, with the quest for information to come in. We just had to make a decision, because (sugar) was haemorrhaging the economy. Just imagine, (we have been expending) $80 billion dollars a year (on keeping sugar going). That money could have gone towards increasing public servants’ salaries, (as well as those of) nurses and teachers.”
According to the minister, that money continues to go down a “bottomless hole.”
However, he said it was decided — after consultations and studies — that the funds made available to the sector could be taken to the other estates that showed more promise to produce better quality and quantities of sugar.
“(Producing sugar) at Skeldon (costs) 60 cents a pound, and we sell at 15 cents; (Producing sugar at) Rose Hall (costs) 40-45 cents per pound, to sell for 15 cents. It’s best (for GuySuCo to) put the money in (operating) Blairmont, (an estate) producing (sugar) at 22 cents per pound; and Albion, (which produces at) 25 cents per pound; and Uitvlugt (which produces) at 26 cents (per pound). Put the money there, so you have a chance to turn around (the fortunes of GuySuCo) along the (operation of the) cogeneration plants. This (course of action) is (necessary) to save these communities,” he explained.
Pressed about whether the Government plans to debate the white paper in the National Assembly, Holder told Guyana Times, “We cannot keep on debating and debating. When you come to an end of a process, then you produce the white paper. The Opposition would love to keep on debating. How much more consultations do you want? It must come to an end.”
While Government’s plan to downsize the industry will take full effect at the end of 2017, the process has already commenced. Holder said implementation is progressing well, but the only issue is that there is dire need for more cane harvesters from Wales to take up the offer of working at the Uitvlugt Estate. He alleged that the Opposition is encouraging them not to do so.
“It is a hindrance to the social and economic well-being of the people of the Wales area,” he said, while promising that more Government officials apart from those attached to GuySuCo will meet with people within the various communities and villages to listen to their concerns. However, the Government’s position on the need to downsize the industry is unchangeable.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has accused Government of misleading the Guyanese people that genuine consultations would have been held first before the fate of GuySuCo was decided.
Jagdeo pointed out that United States-based Guyanese Brian Wesley Kirton was authorised before the consultations to search for investors in GuySuCo. He said that was before the Opposition was invited to what he described as “perfunctory and cursory” consultations called on December 30, 2016.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has also accused the Government of not being keen on debating the white paper on the sugar industry. GAWU President Komal Chand believes the policy decision taken is of national importance, and it ought to be debated by the National Assembly.
In announcing plans to downsize the sugar industry, Government said it plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar estates and sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, but keep functioning estates at Blairmont on the West Bank of Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice, and Uitvlugt-Wales in West Demerara.
Government also plans to cut sugar production to approximately 147,000 tonnes per annum, to satisfy the demand in the local market (25,000 tonnes per annum); Caricom and other regional markets (50,000-60,000 tonnes per annum); the United States (12,500 tonnes per annum) and the world market (50,000 tonnes per annum). (Samuel Sukhnandan)