Sugar is in dire straits- it requires solutions not political grandstanding

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[www.imnewsguyana.com] – Sugar is in the news again but not for the right reasons. The uphill task being encountered in the industry requires matured and reasoned discussions and solutions. The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) strongly holds the view that the Parliament/National Assembly-the nation’s supreme decision making forum- is capable of establishing a committee to review the industry and point to a way forward. Political grandstanding on the part of the government and GuySuCo’s recourse to setting lower targets unrelated to capacity would not address this ailing industry, that is not only now heavily reliant on tax payers’ bailout, but also pose dire consequences for the nation. The industry needs a National Plan.

SugarGuySuCo is not performing at a competitive level on the world stage. Sugar workers remain the nation’s highest industrial causalities. Non-payment of contributions to the National Insurance Scheme affects the Scheme’s performance and workers’ benefits. The industry continues to be propped up by taxpayers and the nation is still left in the dark how their monies are being spent and what will be the plan to make sugar profitable. Workers’ discontent remains evident. Administrative overheads are not self-sustaining.  These are all indicators the government cannot be left singularly to make decisions on this vital industry. Changes have to be made to sustain the industry and the workers (direct and indirect) whose wellbeing are affected by it.

Persons of expertise have been speaking to sugar’s dilemma for years and the government continues to ignore them. They are being ignored purely because of political insularity and arrogance which is making sugar bitter. Sugar is not the property of a few. It is the property and legacy of all Guyanese whose ancestors have built the industry from ground up, invested, and maintained it over the years. Sugar is us and it must not die because of political narrow-mindedness. This industry must be given its deserving attention and expertise irrespective of political persuasion, loyalty or ethnicity.

It requires strength to admit mistakes have been made and magnanimity to seek to fix these mistakes. If the sugar industry was private then it would have been acceptable to ignore the political arrogance. But given that sugar is state-owned, no longer self-financing, rely on billions of taxpayers’ dollars and workers continue to suffer, the time is now to act. The opposition majority does not have to await the Executive bringing this important national issue to the House. The opposition can initiate action to start the ball rolling. Having too admitted it was a mistake to give GuySuCo $6B in the 2014 Budget without demanding accountability requires fixing this anomaly through pro-active approaches in the National Assembly.

To continue to rely on the government will be to continue to expect more of the same, while sugar workers and those whose livelihood are impacted are consumed with anxiety and uncertainties to the extent where some are fleeing to work in sister Caribbean countries. Sugar impacts on the lives of every Guyanese and have direct employment for persons from Crabwood Creek in Berbice to Parika in Essequibo, i.e. every community on the coastland.

The process of transparency and accountability in GuySuCo must start now by having this company submit its years of outstanding annual reports to the Auditor General and National Assembly. The absence of accountability for the over $31B given to the industry by the European Union for reform is also of concern. This sum is separate from the billions borrowed from the Consolidated Fund over the years and the over US$200m spent on the Skeldon Factory which requires millions more to salvage.

GTUC reiterates its call for the bleeding and mismanagement of this industry to stop now and our elected leaders retreat to the National Assembly to address this issue of grave national import. This nation cannot continue to ignore the inevitable- GuySuCo is in crisis and will collapse and consume us all if we continue the dillydallying and political grandstanding.

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