Sugar has been the heart and lifeblood of many Guyanese for over 375 years going back to the 1630s and has been aptly described by one writer as “the pulse of the nation’s economy”. The current state of the country’s economy bears testimony to this fact!
Sugar was king and Burnham wanted to bring it fully under his exploitative state machinery, he saw billions available to be squandered and that was exactly what he did. The nationalisation of the sugar industry in 1976, which gave birth to GuySuCo, saw the industry being used to finance Burnham’s harebrained schemes to mask the massive stealing which was taking place. In the process, billions of dollars, approximately $16 billion Guyana dollars, was squandered, monies which could have gone to fully capitalise and mechanise the industry in line with existing new technology.
It must be noted that the average US exchange rate was 71:1 from 1976 to 2002 and from 1976 to 1992 the average exchange rate was 21:1 US. The bulk of the monies were creamed off during 17 years through the sugar levy and flung after the many failings of the PNC dictatorship.
The sugar levy was used to fund the Linden community, the Guyana National Service and the Public service, among others. Today, the sugar industry is cast into ignominy and referred to as the ‘dark hole’ by Moses Nagamootoo, the self-touted ‘champion of the sugar workers’ whilst his comrade in infamy, Khemraj Ramjattan accused the sugar workers of robbing and impoverishing the other sectors. Why such ingratitude?
At today’s exchange rate at a conservative $210, the sugar levy would have translated into more than GY$100 billion! These monies excluded the cost of the humongous corruption which existed in GuySuCo at that time when managers were living royal and lavish lifestyles.
Sugar was ‘king’ and had produced its share of royalties! This levy was later abolished in 2002 by the PPP Administration, but the damage had been done. However, the sugar levy was not the only benefit the country received, sugar was a major contributor to the GDP, it was a major foreign exchange earner, provided over 18,000 jobs and greatly contributed to the socio-economic development of this country.
The multiplier effect was extensive and promoted high-level economic growth in the Private Sector as well. Today all of that is distant memory! The urge to destroy the sugar industry has taken precedence over objective and rational reasoning.
Today, the Guyanese economy is feeling the brunt of the harsh and vindictive measures inflicted by the coalition on the sugar industry by the closure of Enmore, Wales, Skeldon and Rose Hall estates.
Not only has the industry been failing to reach its paltry annual targets, not only has the foreign exchange earning capacity dropped by more than half, but the callous dismissal of more than 7000 workers have wreaked havoc in the family lives of these workers and the domino effect has literally destroyed the related and dependent sectors.
Many dependent communities are on the verge of social and economic devastation. Today, everyone has come to full realisation that the sugar industry was deliberately placed under the guillotine by the coalition in its quest to fulfil the 1991 PNC mandate to destroy the support base of the PPP.
It must be recalled that the PPP invested $26 billion dollars in the sugar industry from 2011 to 2015 and the monies were wisely used to capitalise and mechanise the field and factory operations, no estates were closed and no jobs were lost while the much-needed foreign exchange continued to flow and the related industries and service sectors continued to flourish.
These monies were well spent and properly accounted for in Parliament. Today it is a grave travesty! This coalition has spent $32 billion in ‘bailouts’ and $17.6 billion from a $30 billion bond, a total of $49.6 billion and everything has fallen apart! Even the highly watered down sugar targets are now unreachable. Not only that but these monies have not been properly utilised and cannot be properly accounted for.
The $30 billion bond was supposed to be used to upgrade and mechanise the existing sugar estates, set up co-generation plant and plantation white sugar plant. None of which has even started to take shape. Has this bond been used to perpetuate the corruption which has become endemic and cancerous with this coalition?
The grossly underpriced selling of machinery and equipment of the closed estates by SPU officials has already placed these estates in unsaleable conditions. It has become more urgent that this coalition be voted out of office or GuySuCo will be beyond redemption!
In conclusion, it is the deliberate destruction of GuySuCo which has heralded the downfall of the coalition by the successful passing of the No-Confidence Motion. It is this devastation which ignited the conscience of Mr Charrandas Persaud to vote “yes” in favour of the NCM. His vote has identified him the true “champion” of the sugar workers and I am sure that in a short while, the coalition will reap the bitter fruit of their misdeeds and the ‘pulse of the economy’ will be regenerated hundredfold!