Public sugar forum
– calls for reconsideration, urges impartiality
Following Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland’s move to block the Economic Services Committee of Parliament from conducting public forums to reach those involved in the sugar industry, the parliamentary Opposition is crying foul.
According to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, the Speaker’s decision follows a pattern of decision-making in Parliament which appear to favour the coalition party. He noted that blocking the Economic Services Committee was inconsistent, since he had allowed another committee to carry out similar exercises only
“We’ve recently seen another inconsistent ruling from the Speaker (of the House) when he prevented the Economic Services Committee from seeking, what is part of its mandate, an outreach in communities to listen to members of the public and civil society in making recommendations to the National Assembly,” Jagdeo said, during a press conference on Thursday.
“Now the Speaker runs the risk of being seen as extremely biased, given past rulings and inconsistency of his rulings and these rulings, more often than not, are favourable to the government.”
According to Jagdeo, there appeared to be bias in the Speaker’s decision-making. He went on to urge that the Speaker reconsider his decision and allow the Committee to do its work, noting that the Speaker did not own Parliament.
“I would urge the Speaker to be much more consistent in his rulings. How can you explain that just weeks ago, another committee, the Natural Resources Committee, visited several entities and places in Guyana. They went to Isseneru, Guyana Gold Fields, a number of places in the interior… and the Speaker did not prevent that from taking place. And when the Economic Services Committee, in this instance, wanted to visit the sugar estates and talk to people about the impact of the Government’s decision on the closure of these estates, the Speaker doesn’t allow it?” Jagdeo fumed.
The Committee had requested leave to conduct these forums in Regions Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Five (Mahaica-Berbice) and Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) on specific dates starting from June 7 to June 31. But in a letter dated June 5, 2017, and addressed to Clerk of Committees, Letta Barker, House Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland said a public forum did not seem appropriate for the Committee to undertake.
“I, therefore, disallow the request and withhold my consent for the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services to conduct public forums under the cover of the National Assembly,” the letter stated.
The request was made under Standing Order (95) 8 and the purpose of the public forums was to receive the views of various stakeholders in the respective communities and prepare a report to be submitted to the National Assembly.
Commenting on the issue, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament (MP) Komal Chand told Guyana Times that it was a majority decision by the Committee to have these public forums in order to get an understanding of what people within the industry feel about the decision to downsize.
Government had announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services provided by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder claimed that this process would result in improving the relationship with some cane cutters, estate staff and about 1710 private cane farmers, adding that GuySuCo’s sugar operations will be limited to the Albion-Rose Hall, Blairmont and Uitvlugt-Wales Estates.
The estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all locations, according to the Agriculture Minister. The Minister had also revealed plans to cut sugar production to approximately 147,000 tonnes per annum.
Several members of the Opposition PPP/C have maintained that the white paper on the industry confirmed that the industry was being “maliciously downsized” as a prelude for closure.