Budget debate day 2: Heated exchanges over agri sector, flood relief

…as appreciation letters from APNU/AFC constituencies to Govt read to Opposition

Day two of the budget debate at the National Assembly saw heated exchanges over the management of the agriculture sector between Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha and Khemraj Ramjattan, the Opposition Member of Parliament shadowing his sector.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

One of the focal points of Ramjattan’s presentation was claims of corruption during the flood relief initiative executed by the Agriculture Ministry. The Opposition has claimed that flood relief cheques were given to People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) friends and family.
But the Agriculture Minister vehemently rejected those claims, noting that the monies benefited hundreds across the country. In fact, he read to the National Assembly, letters of appreciation for the assistance provided from the Opposition’s own constituents.
“The first one I have here is from your people! The Chairman of the International Decade of People of African Descent, Mr Vincent Alexander. You know what he said? He wrote to the Director General, he said please accept our appreciation for following through on the commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture to provide flood relief to our members,” Mustapha said.
“We have here a letter from the Victoria community. And I want to read it, for your understanding to know that we have friends and supporters in every corner in this country. They wrote, Gear Minister Mustapha, appreciation for assistance to Victoria Development Council, in collaboration with the Victoria Northbrook farmers group, would like to formally thank you and extend to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government of Guyana, (thanks) for the assistance received during the flood.”

AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan

The Minister also read letters from the cooperative society in Ithaca on the West Bank of Berbice and farmers in C Field, Sophia, Greater Georgetown who wrote that “the Rainbow Farmers group suffered greatly during the recent floods. We lost our crops and animals. We were relieved to hear the President say that the Government gave us the flood relief cash grant. We collected ours during the Region Five distribution and it has helped us so much to go back to the field and start back our farming.”
Nonetheless, Ramjattan, who was the first of 14 speakers for day two of the budget debate, called for the publishing of the names of all those who received flood relief and the amounts received. It is a call the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) has largely echoed.

Meanwhile, in the face of criticisms in Ramjattan’s preceding speech, the Agriculture Minister also defended the Government’s efforts to reopen closed sugar estates and the allocation of $6 billion to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) for 2022.
“Mr Speaker, the destruction that took place under the APNU/AFC. They feel we have a magic wand, we go touch the estates and say open, open. That’s the man… let me tell you about one estate, Rose Hall Estate; when we went there, what we reached?
“We reached an abandoned cultivation overgrown with bushes… that means we have to do retilling and replanting and to ensure we have time for enough cultivation so we can have cane and sugar produced at that estate. And we are in the process of doing that,” he said.
Back in 2016, the then APNU/AFC Government closed the Wales Estate, and the following year shut down the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates, putting over 7000 sugar workers on the breadline.
Many of those workers have not been able to secure permanent jobs and remain on the breadline years later. The downsizing of the sugar industry resulted in only the Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion Estates remaining in operation.
The PPP/C, during the 2020 election campaign trail, had promised to reopen those estates and rehire those sacked workers. Since the PPP/C Administration assumed office in August 2020, they have been putting systems in place to reopen the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates. Workers have also been compensated by the PPP Government in this regard. (G3)