Govt director needs to be better acquainted with sugar industry

Dear Editor,
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) wishes to refer to an article appearing in the media on April 26, 2017 under the title “Sugar, votes and cyclical poverty”, authored by the Director of Public Information, Mr Imran Khan.
In his article, the director called attention to a statement by our union’s president, Mr Komal Chand, in response to the then planned European Union (EU) sugar price cut. The GAWU president quite correctly pointed to the obvious dangers that would come to bear if the EU had proceeded with its then plan. It was generally acknowledged by all those who knew about sugar that the EU cut, or ‘reform’, as it was styled, would present difficulties for the industry. This, as far as we know, was never shied away from or hidden. Mr Khan also seemingly goes on to put words in the GAWU president’s mouth, saying that Mr Chand was aware that the EU changes would make the industry unsustainable.
Neither our union nor Mr Chand ever made such utterances. We find Mr Khan’s assertions baseless and without substance. The industry recognized challenges that would emerge, and crafted a plan to address the fallout. Mr Khan may also be interested to learn that the industry’s measures were, not so surprisingly, fully supported by persons who currently hold high-level positions in the said industry. Now those same individuals tell us those ideas no longer hold water. We find their somersaulting interesting.  Is it a case of he who pays the piper calling the tune?
We also wish to advise Mr Khan that Diamond Estate was closed in 1985, and the LBI factory in 2011. However, it was not until the latter half of 2016 that LBI Estate was closed, when certain operations were merged with their counterparts at Enmore. The union was until then made to understand by GuySuCo officials that the LBI Estate would not be closed. That ‘consolidation’, we understand, was intended to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Yet, a few weeks after, our union and the workers learnt on the last day of 2016 that the Administration was contemplating closing the same estate – Enmore Estate – and putting about 2,300 workers out of work.
We are disheartened to read Mr Khan saying that a large number of workers live in an impoverished state. Indeed, this is inaccurate, and possibly speaks to Mr Khan’s disconnect from reality. Many sugar workers, through their incomes which were adjusted over time, have been able to live modest, humble lives. Some accomplished feats once thought were impossible, such as sending their children to university.
We find the director’s assertion offensive to the hard-working workers.  Or, maybe it is a case of Mr Khan having a crystal ball which advised him that workers would “…live in perpetual, punishing, cyclical poverty” should the Administration implement its dastardly plans for the industry?
Mr Khan’s lack of knowledge is further exposed when he says “there was little effort to diversify…” There were moves in that direction, as evidenced by the Skeldon Co-Generation Plant and the Enmore and Blairmont Packaging Plants. Our union was advised that, in 2016, the operators of the Skeldon Co-Generation Plant collected no less than $9.45B from sales. In fact, for the director’s information, the Sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) advised that electricity production has great potential as a revenue earner for GuySuCo. Moreover, packaged sugar, the CoI said, offers the sugar corporation its highest prices.
The ‘junior spin doctor’ may also be interested to know that, just a few weeks ago, a conference to discuss the Jamaican industry concluded that ventures into electricity production and refined white sugar, among other things, offered that industry good possibilities for viability. If Jamaica can do it, what stops Guyana — which has flat arable land, an adequate fresh water supply, inexpensive cane transportation, know-how, sufficient labour, factory capacity and other advantages — from doing the same, or even better?
The erstwhile gentleman also points to the level of Government support since the Coalition assumed the reins of power. We wonder if he finds it odd that, given the large sum provided to GuySuCo, sugar production this year is estimated at around 198,000 tonnes. In view of the investment, production ought to have been much higher than the 231,000 tonnes production inherited in 2015.
Mr Khan may want to ask whether we have the right captain at the helm of GuySuCo. On the debt, we urge the director to seek a disaggregation of the data, as it would be most enlightening for him.
Mr Director, do get better acquainted and acquire a better understanding of the industry you want to write about.