Over the past two weeks, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding an exclusive article published by Guyana Times which highlighted the views of scores of sugar workers and probably hundreds across the sugar belt about the leadership being currently provided by the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand.
The workers had called for his resignation as they felt that the Union, under Chand’s leadership, could have much more to advance their cause and force the Government to reconsider if not the closure of sugar estates, the manner in which the entire process was going to be rolled out.
The workers, whose names and designations at various estates were interviewed, had requested anonymity out of fear of being victimiSed or discriminated against by either the political bosses at the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) or the coalition Government.
The bottom line was these workers believed that GAWU needed more decisive, youthful, visionary and pragmatic leadership. Anyone who argues that they were out of line must do some serious introspection as GAWU’s own rules and regulations allow them to express freely their views as the entity is a democratic one and none of its leaders are indispensible. As a matter of fact, this is not the first time the workers have called for Chand to resign during his tenure as President. The workers have called for several other union representatives and executives to resign from time to time depending on the quality of representation they received and the outcomes secured in the past.
Soon after the publication of the workers views, the Union’s President went on the defensive and launched a campaign aimed at maligning this newspaper and questioning whether the views shared by the workers were authentic. Chand switched gears when engaging journalists, while becoming very rash and hasty while responding to legitimate questions. At one point, he alleged that the journalists here had a personal vendetta against him and that the newspaper was on a campaign to remove him from GAWU’s helm.
As expected, the political opportunists fanned the flames lit by irresponsibly Chand. The situation had morphed into one where the coalition’s public relations pundits and sympathetic columnists began insinuating that the article was concocted on the instruction of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo. And when the PPP GS criticised after the publication of our article, some aspects of Chand’s comments after GAWU’s engagement with the Government, public debate started.
Firstly, it is important to point out that this newspaper does not take instructions from politicians about what issues it must cover or what form that coverage must take. While there may be a few isolated instances where politicians on both sides of the divide might request coverage of stories beneficial in some way to them, it is the editorial board of this newspaper that makes the final call on what is published.
We have always believed in balance, accuracy, truth and accountability. Guyana Times is never used as a weapon but a tool for highlighting the issues affecting people from all walks of life so that their leaders could respond appropriately. Mr Chand, therefore, should be the last politician or union leader to allege discrimination in coverage or that this newspaper is on a campaign for his removal.
The fact is, GAWU and Chand has benefited from the most positive coverage than any other union on the past eight years. Chand would be dishonest were he to not admit that it was this newspaper that broke the major stories about the closures of estates and the downsizing of the industry. He ought to be ashamed for attempting to impugn the character of the journalists who work with the Guyana Times. If the PPP has concerns about his handling of the sugar debacle then that is a matter for him to address with the leadership of the party in which he serves as a parliamentarian. This newspaper is independent and will continue to stand beside the people. If the workers were to criticise Mr Chand, we would report it again without any apologies because we believe in fair journalism.
While Mr Chand’s career in the fields of labour and unionism is no doubt remarkable, he is not above the law nor untouchable. And though he may enjoy the support of some of his colleagues in and outside of the PPP, he cannot seriously think that he can be President of GAWU for life. No one will doubt Mr Chand’s sincerity or commitment to the cause of workers but his most recent outburst did him the most injustice. It exposed his personal insecurities about the security of tenure of his job. Guyana Times should stand by every article it has published on the crisis facing the sugar industry and will regret any attempt by Chand to malign its character.