Home Letters Govt’s propaganda cannot erase sugar workers’ pains and trials
The Government in Action column titled “GuySuCo and Sugar creating a viable future” which appeared in the December 30, 2018 Guyana Chronicle spent an inordinate amount of time in seeking to convince readers that the Administration’s actions regarding the sugar industry were correct. For the thousands of Guyanese who have been affected by the callous, immoral actions of the Administration, no amount of placating can really erase the pain, trials and tribulations that they have to now face up to.
The column begins by invoking the industry’s indebtedness. It seems the Government has employed the trick whereby it seeks to repeat a fallacy with the hope that it be accepted as reality. Our Union, on several occasions, has pointed out that, using figures at our disposal, that industry’s immediately payable debt is really around $13B, and if sums owing to the GRA are written off – as has been done for other enterprises – debt would decline to just over $7B.
The Government points to the opportunity cost of its investment in sugar, lamenting more monies could have been invested in other areas of the State. While the Government seems to decry its support to the industry, it seems not to recall that it was sugar that provided billions to the Treasury by way of levy that supported the nation in perilous times; that billions more were earned by taxes (direct and indirect); that scores of low-lying coastal villages benefit from its drainage and irrigation services; that thousands of Guyanese have a skill through the GuySuCo Training Centre; that the nation’s health care was augmented by the industry’s dispensaries, and that many Guyanese enjoy the industry’s recreational facilities that saw some rising to the highest ranks of international cricket. We recall Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, speaking at the GAWU Conference on September 04, 2018, where he shared that he himself benefitted from sugar’s contribution to his community.
Today, what is the opportunity cost of not investing in sugar? Thousands of unemployed Guyanese, depressed communities, higher incidences of criminality and other anti-social behavior, more broken homes and families being split-up, among so many other challenges. While not wanting to invest in sugar, the Administration is now forced to spend just for drainage in the closed estate areas, a billion dollars more apart from monies that will have to be found to address the other difficulties that will arise.
The column also says that Guyana received from the European Union (EU) $348.5B to support to the local industry. This is yet another falsehood.
The public is told that GuySuCo had estimated that it would have required $17B per year for an unnamed four-year period to keep the industry fully operable. This is again, in our view, another attempt to fudge the truth. The Corporation had told GAWU, NAACIE and the GLU at a meeting on September 29, 2016, that it required $10B and not $17B as the column, obviously incorrectly, conveys. But, according to the column, the Government could not use 3 per cent of the 2019 Budget to keep thousands of Guyanese gainfully employed. Moreover, through the consumption of workers and their families, as GAWU pointed out previously, some $100B in economic activity would have been generated. In other words, the Government, through taxes, would have recouped its investment and the economy would have been even more robust.
The Administration then praises itself for the consultations which it held with the sugar unions and the political opposition. On this matter, the GAWU wishes to point out that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) opined that “[i]n a matter of such national importance impacting such large number of workers the process could have been more extensive and more responsive to the concerns of the Applicants [GAWU and NAACIE]”. The Justices opined that “[n]otwithstading the absence of a statutory obligation the Respondents ought to have given a considered response (whether written or oral) to the GAWU’s proposals explaining why they were not adopted”. It is hardly something that the Government should pat itself on the back for.
The column next speaks about the January, 2018 engagement between the Government, GAWU and NAACIE. While the unions, in good faith, committed to working in the interest of the industry and more so the workers, since the inaugural meeting, now nearly a year ago, we have not heard from the Granger Government. Undoubtedly, it allows a little doubt as to the Administration’s ‘concern’ about the now jobless sugar workers.
The Administration also takes, perplexingly, kudos for providing monies to offset severance payments to the workers making it seem that the process was smooth and without difficulty. But as the public well knows, it was anything but that. The Administration, in the first place, did not budget for the severance payments and then, contrary to the law, proceeded to withhold half of the payments to some workers. This forced our Union to approach the Courts which agreed the workers were wronged and awarded interests to them. Similarly, at Wales, the Government and GuySuCo denied severance pay to some 350 cane cutters in spite of the clarity of the law. It required again the Judiciary to intervene and right the wrong being committed against the beleaguered ex-workers.
The column also speaks about training opportunities and loans available through Government schemes. On this score, we hasten to ask how many redundant workers have really benefitted? How many with their training have been able to get a job? How many have opened businesses? While indeed there may be a few, the reality is, however, that a large number of workers remain right there on the breadline, looking for the soft landing the President promised. Today, they remain caught between a rock and a hard place not knowing where next to turn, what new challenges tomorrow will bring and how they will put food on their tables or to send their children to school, among life’s other basic needs. Today, no amount of propaganda can give the Government the positive spin it so desperately wants. Thousands have been indelibly scarred and entire communities have been thrown into disarray.