Govt morally obligated to hold referendum on sugar industry – Chand

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) says it is the moral responsibility of Government to hold a referendum to determine whether the sugar industry should be downsized or not, as it has the potential to affect thousands of people employed within the industry.

In justifying reasons for this call, President of GAWU, Komal Chand, told Guyana

President of GAWU, Komal Chand

Times on Wednesday that several promises with regards to the industry were made by the David Granger-led Administration.

“We are justifying our position for a referendum against the backdrop of the support for the sugar industry in the election campaign by all the political parties, including the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) that now holds Government,” he asserted.

Chand also made reference to a number of speeches made by the President and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, where the electorate was told during the last political campaign that “sugar is too big to fail” and that “there is no quick fix, but we are not going to dissolve the sugar industry.”

The GAWU head reminded that many of the current Government Ministers who were in the last political campaign, made a lot of promises to the people with regards to sugar. However, these same people are now supporting the miniaturising of the industry, which will render about 10,000 workers redundant and could affect thousands of households.

“We are saying that since it is an election issue, you use the electorate in the campaign to assure them that sugar is too big to fail and you are now making a roundabout turn, it is now only morally right, that you go to a referendum and hear what the people have to say,” he added.

Chand, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) made reference to a number of cases where efforts are being made to prevent consultations and public debates on the future of the sugar industry from happening.

He again made reference to recent decisions made by Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland to deny the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services to conduct public forums on the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the sugar industry.

Chand reiterated that it was a majority decision by the Committee to have these public forums to get an understanding of what people within the industry feel about the decision to downsize.

On another score, the GAWU President told Guyana Times certain procedures have not been put in place by the Government to have the policy debated in the National Assembly; something he believes is of national importance and ought to be debated by MPs from both sides.

“The information contained in that white paper has significant effects on the country, the people and particularly the workers in the industry…,” he remarked.

The GAWU official also argued that the white paper presents vague information and does not go into specificity of how this matter is going to be dealt with. According to him, the Government spokesperson claimed that the Administration has not configured the roll out of this new policy fully.

Over the past month GAWU has been holding several protest action across the country, along the sugar belt and has managed to get the support of not only sugar workers, but persons in the various communities, as well as shopkeepers, pensioners and concerned citizens. Former Presidential Advisor and economist, Ramon Gaskin has warned the Government to be careful how they go about implementing this new policy, because, he emphasised it could have a negative effect on the local economy. Gaskin said it could also lead to the increase in other social ills that remain prevalent in society, including suicide and crime.

The economist believes that if Government goes about addressing this issue the wrong way, it could find itself facing a rebellion along the sugar belt. He made reference to the 1904 Rose Hall rebellion and said this could occur again, unless alternative employment is provided to the thousands that are likely to be affected.