Although Government has announced plans to close the sugar industry, former President and current General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Bharrat Jagdeo has called on all Guyanese and people living in the sugar belt to continue to fight to save the industry.
Jagdeo made this plea while addressing residents of Enmore, on the East Coast Demerara, during a public meeting held on Wednesday to mark Enmore Martyrs Day, which will be celebrated on Friday.
The former Head of State slammed the Government for the unconscionable decision, stating that it has the potential to create great difficulty for many citizens across the country.
“We’ve been growing sugar in Guyana for 300 years and in two years of this Government, not even under (Forbes) Burnham, they have decided to dismantle sugar,” he told the large gathering.
According to him, the decision to shut down the industry was made way before the coalition Government sought to have consultation with the relative stakeholders, including the Opposition.
He read a letter that he received from the Government on November 16, 2016, which outlined that authorisation was given to discuss any possible sale of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) in part or in its entirety.
“So, when they started this perfunctory, this show of consultation that they were listening to GAWU and us (opposition) and they wanted to engage us on a way forward, they had already made the decision to sell the entire industry and this exposes the duplicity of this Government,” he remarked.
The former President told the large gathering that the David Granger-led Administration cannot be trusted as they have never negotiated in good faith, explaining that in spite of the promises made to the electorate during the last election, they are determined to dismantle the sugar industry regardless of its consequences.
He said, “Today we see an expression of their callous behaviour by their refusal to say what they will do with the 10,000 workers and their families when they lose their jobs,” he added.
Jagdeo said the closure of the industry, however, has the potential to affect close to 50,000 people, which in his view is a “political, discriminatory decision on the part of the Government.
Jagdeo reiterated that the sugar industry could be sustained and can become viable if more attention is placed on fixing the current problems that exists. He recalled that between 1976 and 1996, sugar made a huge contribution to the Treasury and paid for the sugar levy.
“At one time, one fifth of total Government revenues came from the sugar industry. We carried Guyana for a long period and even after that, when the sugar levy was ended in 1996 we then got GuySuCo to continue to make a positive contribution to the industry,” he noted.
The PPP/C General Secretary also pointed out that it was only when there was a cut in the European Union (EU) prices for sugar, it led to the industry loosing $8 billion per annum in revenue. It was at that point that Government had to start looking to begin pumping revenue in the industry.
However, the EU had given Guyana over €100 million as part of the transitional arrangement, which according to Jagdeo, was more than the cost of Skeldon Sugar factory. “And so today it is not true that sugar cannot be restored in the future. It’s not true that sugar cannot be profitable. If we work real hard and we look at the multidimensional contributions of sugar to the economy we will through an economic analysis that sugar makes a bigger contribution to Guyana than the subsidy it gets in this difficult period,” he asserted.
Contrary to what is being done with the sugar industry, Jagdeo said the PPP/C Government ensured that when the bauxite industry needed help, they pumped money into that industry to keep it alive.
Jagdeo said this was mainly because the Government was compassionate and caring and did not want to affect the lives of those who were directly dependent on the industry for their livelihoods.
“We were concerned about Kwakwani, Ituni and Linden and the residents there, and about how they will keep their families going and we made sure that we worked with those communities and the industry to keep bauxite alive in those places.
However, he argued that this Government, because it views everything through a political, racial discriminatory lens, it will shoot the country’s prospects of improving lives just to satisfy a political agenda.