The revelation by GAWU and NAACIE, the unions in the sugar industry, that operations at La Bonne Intention (LBI) is being wound up reinforces both the parlous state of of that industry and a studied unwillingness by the authorities to execute its responsibilities to the people of Guyana on whose behalf, it it is being managed. The Orwellian language that the staff of Enmore and LBI are being “consolidated” only rubs salt into an open wound. The “authorities” in this case are not only the management of GUYSUCO, but the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government of Guyana.
By now, most Guyanese are aware of the challenges to the industry in general, and in Demerara in particular, centred around the need to lower the cost of production. But in an environment when the entire country is in a heightened state of anxiety over the economy stuck in the doldrums since the government changed hands, decisions that adversely affect the lives of 700 workers, the 3000 members of their families and the wider community that depend on their spending power cannot simply be made “public” in a private meeting between GUYSUCO officials and the trade unions.
The shuttering of LBI sugar is not occurring in a vacuum: it comes in the wake of an even more egregious prior blanketing of the news of the closure of Wales Estate across the Demerara River. That decision placed over 1700 workers, their families and the entire West Bank Demerara community on the brink of ruination. For them there are no alternative sources of employment.
But we return to the manner in which the authorities are dealing with the unfolding tragedy. When the opposition APNU and AFC parties ensured the government changed hands almost a year ago, they did so after severely criticising the previous PPP/C administration for not being “open” with citizens over the running of their affairs. The construction of the Marriott Hotel was a case in point, even though in that instance, some information had to be held in abeyance because of the confidential nature of business transactions involving financing.
The new government explicitly committed themselves to dealing with the people of Guyana in a more “transparent” manner especially in areas where they were explicit agents of the people. This is supremely so in the case of the sugar industry which was nationalised back in 1976. Yet the closure of Wales Estate was revealed by the private media Guyana Times, and was only grudgingly confirmed by the Board of GUYSUCO and the Ministry of Agriculture but with so much obfuscation that the persons affected are still up in the air on their livelihood.
All of this is even more troubling when millions of dollars were expended on a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the troubled industry which resulted in a most comprehensive report that was submitted to stakeholders. GUYSUCO and the Government, however, have unfortunately chosen to ignore the recommendations of the Report, even though the Chairman of GUYSUCO was a member of the COI.
Another nettlesome issue has been the near invisibility of the Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, under whose portfolio sugar rests. The government explicitly courted the traditional sugar worker constituency via the AFC and they were explicitly allocated the Agriculture Ministry to reassure them their interests would be protected. Even if the unfolding human tragedy in the Demerara sugar belt does not move the government to act more circumspectly in sugar, maybe pragmatic politics might be more persuasive.