…Agri Minister still in “la la land” – Chand …demands his resignation over dishonesty, lack of integrity
A systemic and deliberate plot by the Government of Guyana — through its Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Department of Public Information (DPI) — to deliberately mislead Guyanese about the administration’s handling of the dismissal of thousands of sugar workers has been exposed by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Wednesday.
Speaking during an interview with the Guyana Times, Komal Chand, GAWU General Secretary, said union representatives and sugar workers were on Tuesday shocked and taken aback by statements attributed to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder which were printed and broadcast in the media.
Holder is quoted by the DPI as saying that the Government managed to save close to 5,000 jobs in the sugar industry while preventing some 9,000 persons from being retrenched or laid off. The Minister is also quoted extensively in the DPI release as arguing that this was done through an assimilation plan which incorporated the workers in the public service.
Minister Holder is reported to have made those statements to the Central Corentyne Chambers of Commerce (CCC) at a meeting held at Mibicuri, Black Bush Polder, in Region Six. He also claimed that sugar workers were the highest paid category of workers in Guyana, pocketing an easy $200,000 or more monthly in wages and salaries.
Chand insists that the picture painted by the Minister was purely “fictional” in nature and was “devoid of facts”. He said if there was any truth to the statements purportedly made by Holder, then the Government needs to explain why it kept this so called assimilation plan a top secret.
The GAWU Head further reasoned that the Minister also needs to explain why the Government has been in defensive mode ever since issuing retrenchment and dismissal letters to thousands of workers before closing several East Demerara estates.
“Why wasn’t this defence proffered earlier?” he asked. “And why did the Government accept the figures presented by GuySuCo and endorsed by our union about those who will be actually retrenched or affected?” the Union Head quizzed.
Asked specifically if the closure of the East Demerara estates and the Commission of Inquiry Report on the State of the Sugar Industry were discussed as substantive issues in the National Assembly, as alleged by Holder, Chand responded in the negative.
“That is an untruth. The records are there… Something is wrong with the Minister… Two years ago, he provided the Commission of Inquiry Report to the Parliament, but it was never discussed,” Chand contended, as he reminded that when an attempt was made to discuss those issues at the level of the Economic Services Committee, the attempt was blocked by Committee Chairman Jaipaul Sharma, who said that Parliament had not given approval for the referral of the CoI Report to the committee to be discussed.
Chand insisted that GuySuCo’s former Chief Executive Officer, Errol Hanoman, who, according to the longstanding union representative, should not have been on the job in the first place, had informed the Granger Cabinet back in October 2016 that the total number of workers to be affected by downsizing the industry was 7, 800, including the Wales Estate workers.
“…here, the Minister is giving 9,000, excluding Wales’ workers,” Chand declared, as he insisted that a deliberate attempt was being made to rewrite the facts surrounding the Government’s hasty and politically-inspired move.
The GAWU Head also denied Holder’s statements that the workers attached to community and health centres which served GuySuCo were transferred and absorbed into the staff of the ministries of Communities and Public Health. He said the large amount of workers Holder was referring to are merely 46 attached to the health centres and 27 attached to the community centres.
“It is not a reality that these health and community centers’ workers have been transferred,” Chand said, before remarking, “If this is so, then it’s a highly secretive move and deal, and the people in those centres as well as GAWU have not been made aware of this, as they are still being paid by GuySuCo…”.
Delivering what might be termed another feral blast at the Agriculture Minister’s credibility and integrity, Chand said a mere 68 workers from the Wales Estate had been transferred to Uitvlugt, while arguing that it was totally untrue that a large portion had been transferred.
Doling out more statistics not presented by Holder, Chand declared that only 225 workers attached to the Rose Hall Estate were “retained” to do drainage and security works; and he insisted that they have not been given permanent employment or transferred to the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA).
While Chand admitted that some 708 Rose Hall workers were “earmarked” to be transferred to Albion and Blairmont Estates, he said they had not been transferred as yet, as no discussion on working conditions, salaries and employment status have been undertaken with the unions or workers.
Chand again insisted that the Minister was dishonest when he gave the impression that Government had saved jobs at Enmore and Skeldon; because, he said, only 128 workers from Enmore and 100 from Skeldon were given seasonal drainage work and maintenance duties related to the power house facilities there.
“Who can believe the Minister said that they (Government) were unaware about the situation at GuySuCo when they made a commitment in their manifesto… The magistrate would tell you that ignorance of the law is no excuse… They are aware of the GuySuCo situation there… In fact, in 2014, the Opposition members of the Economic Services Committee grilled GuySuCo on its debt… In fact, Paul Bhim was also then the Finance Director….and it’s unacceptable that they are now saying that they are unaware… It’s foolish, as far as I am concerned….” an irate Chand said.
The GAWU Head also denied that an average worker had pocketed $200,000 per month. He said that if this sum is calculated by 16,000 workers, then the GuySuCo wage bill would be in the vicinity of $3.2 billion per month.
“Here, again, something is wrong with the Minister,” Chand insisted, while also denying that the Corporation had made US$90 billion per year but still fell short on its financial responsibilities.
He said Guyanese understand fully that the Granger Administration had acted recklessly and politically when it sent the workers packing without an impact assessment plan or plan for reintegrating the workers into the world of work, even if it meant retraining and retooling them in order for them to be rehired.
“So it’s a lot of false information that he peddled in defending the irrational decision to miniaturise the industry and put thousands of people on the breadline and hurt this country… And since he spoke about redundant workers, I think the time has come — and it should not be delayed — the Minister himself should be made redundant…,” the GAWU Head posited. (Michael Younge)