Home Letters APNU/AFC was never interested in survival of agri sector
The now Opposition APNU/AFC, when in government, was never interested in the growth or even survival of the agriculture sector. They saw it as a predominantly PPP/C support base, especially the rice and sugar industries. In fact, they treated these sectors worse than step-children; those sectors were treated as outcasts which must be crippled and allowed to die. The Coalition had said categorically that rice is private business; but the stark example is GuySuCo.
In December 2017, I highlighted the fact that the Agriculture Capital Budget lacked the vision needed to transform the sector, and that there was a progressive decline in the budgetary allocation since 2015. The 2018 agriculture budgetary allocation was decreased by more than $1.351 billion over the 2017 allocation with no reason proffered for this significant decrease.
The 2019 Budget saw a similar trend, with the Sector’s budgetary allocation slashed by more than $1 billion to $19 billion. The Coalition has been continuously cutting the budgetary allocations for this sector, and the deleterious effect was evidenced by the progressive decline experienced not only in rice and sugar, but other sub-sectors as well.
There simply was nothing which the Coalition’s Agriculture Minister could have contributed in terms of policy, direction or control. It became clear that the political ploy took precedence, and Mr Holder was just a puppet who was just enjoying the good life whilst the sector was disintegrating all around him.
Poor infrastructure, drainage and irrigation problems became a nightmare for rice farmers, as rice production started to decline and less acreage came under cultivation. Many were faced with bankruptcy, and could not afford to service their loans at the banks and with creditors.
The ‘White Paper’ on sugar, to ‘right size’ the industry, actually wrong-sized it to utter destruction, whilst the former Minister continued to regurgitate the PNC’s directive emanating from Sophia. Can you imagine that the Coalition had spent nearly $80 million on a Commission of Inquiry, and then dumped the findings and recommendations? The COI never recommended closure of any estate, but closed they were. Four of them. The COI had set out a turnaround plan to bring back the industry to profitability, but the PNC’s political strategy must be adhered to.
To this I must add that the $42 billion subsidy granted to GuySuCo by the Coalition should have been used to keep the entire industry operational. The $30 billion ‘largesse’ was meant to ensure that the fat cats are well fed, and the money was squandered, filling the pockets of those in the SPU and, by extension, some in the Government.
It must be painfully recalled that even though GuySuCo was given an average annual subsidy of $5 billion by the PPP/C Government, all the estates were operational; foreign exchange in excess of US$100 million was garnered from exports; jobs were saved, and workers were enjoying a reasonable standard of living; communities were thriving, and the US dollar was stabilised.
In addition, there was little flooding, residents were getting assistance from GuySuCo, but the resources-starved entity could hardly help itself. The COI saw these benefits to the economy, and had advised against any closure!
Since its ‘right sizing’, the sugar industry has continued to decline, and the more than 7,000 workers who were maliciously axed were reduced to mendicants. The annual targets were never achieved, as the factories continued to break down, infrastructure deteriorated, and the cultivations produced low yields. It was evident that GuySuCo was facing bankruptcy. This also resulted in the economy going on a downward spiral, as communities experienced social upheaval and living became a heavy burden. Life was simply not the same for thousands of Guyanese. It must be recalled that this situation rekindled the MP’s conscience on the night of December 21st, 2018.
Furthermore, the attempts to sell the closed estates was just another devious ploy to loot them, having spent millions to engage PricewaterhouseCoopers to do an evaluation of the closed estates. The SPU was just another corrupt entity created to siphon off hundreds of millions of cash and assets. Former Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, had said that 3 Estates will be reopened since, ‘We cannot keep them closed and mothballed, because when buyers come, they would probably not be as impressed as if they were working’.
This was to further squander the money. They sold the estates in parts, including the land. The sale of the entities never happened, as they were cannibalised and sold as ‘scrap iron’ and machinery and equipment in working condition were sold for peanuts to cronies. Huge acreage of land was also sold under corrupt deals, and not given to sugar workers, as Nagamootoo had wanted Guyanese to believe.
Today, the four closed estates stand as a stark testimony to the diabolical acts of the Coalition to just destroy and steal. If the closed estates had remained operational, it would have been a quite easy task to get them going again. This is the opportune time for a COI to be held to bring to justice those who are accountable for this massive corruption.
The newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Mr Zulfikar Mustapha, has hit the ground running, and has already shown that he will not be confined to the office, but will go out and meet the farmers in the field and get first-hand information and knowledge of what is required. His resolution of the recent flood in the Upper Corentyne speaks volumes. His method of participative interaction and contribution is what the sector needs, so that policies can be formulated and implemented. The minister was born into agriculture, and he has brought to his Ministry the vast knowledge of dealing with issues relating specifically to the sugar industry, and his years of experience as the Regional Chairman for Region Six, dealing with general and specific agricultural issues.
The sector is in good and capable hands, and indeed the closed estates will be reopened and returned to profitability.