Lip service to agriculture

Dear Editor,
In one of his rare encounters with the media, the caretaker President, David Granger, spoke glowingly about agriculture and food production.
He was being interviewed on the Kaieteur Radio last Friday, November 1, 2019. This was immediately after “Agricultural Month”— celebrated in October 2019.
There is an old saying that goes something like this: “people should not judge a person or organisation by what he/she/it says about his/her/itself but by the action taken”.
Granger was merely repeating an old axiom about the importance of agriculture. However, if he looks at his actions or the actions of his regime, then we would see that his words and deeds are separated by a wide gulf.
In the first instance, how can he be taken seriously after what he did to the sugar industry immediately after assuming power?
His personal hostility was seen by the fact that he had set up a committee to examine the sugar industry. He assured the nation that he would have been guided by the findings of his committee. The committee met and presented its report to him.
It did not recommend the closure of any of the estates. Lo and behold, the President ignored the report completely and closed four estates.
That act put some seven thousand sugar workers on the road. It also put many communities from which the workers came into a deep depression. People are actually starving in those communities.
The APNU/AFC regime, instead of taking concessionary credits from India to recapitalise the industry, has begun the process to shut all estates. This has demonstrated the regime’s hostility not just to sugar but agriculture as a whole.
That decision had other consequences too. It has also dealt a serious blow to the country’s economy, other important businesses, and an important institution— the National Insurance Scheme.
The shortage of foreign currency that we experience has caused the exchange rate to slide. Only recently, it had depreciated to GY$236 to US$1.00. The regime had to use a lot of the nation’s reserve to stabilise the Guyana dollar. They did this because we are approaching an election and the sliding dollar will push the cost of living even higher.
Moreover, as a result of that colossal blunder, the National Insurance Scheme is in serious trouble. It could find itself in bankruptcy. While demands on the Scheme continue to grow, the contributions have been greatly reduced.
This is really self-inflicted by the regime.
The hasty closure of the estates has impacted other companies in the country as well. The other industry that has suffered much from the vindictive closure was the rum industry.
As is well known, molasses from sugar is the main raw material in the production of rum. The Demerara Distillers Limited got one hundred per cent of its molasses from GuySuCo before the closure. Now that company has to import molasses because there is not enough. This has also impacted the availability of foreign currency in the country as a whole. The company must use foreign currency to get its raw materials. Another reason for the pressure on the Guyana Dollar.
Mr Granger also spoke a lot about the Green Economy. Yet, he is doing everything against the ‘Green Economy’. For instance, alternative energy is big business all over the world.
The sugar industry has proven that generating electricity from bagasse is very viable. The Co-Generation Plant in Berbice worked well, supplying power for the whole of Berbice up to Mahaicony.
This regime had the possibility of establishing more Co-Generation Plants at Albion and Enmore and could have bagasse throughout the year for the plants. This had multiple benefits.
It would have saved a lot of fuel imports and foreign currency in the process. It would have encouraged investments in processing and manufacturing, thereby, creating thousands of high-paying jobs.
Guyana could have established joint ventures to refine sugar and take the Caribbean Market— which is some 220,000 tonnes of refined sugar.
The volume of molasses that was being produced would have made a joint venture for another distillery very viable.
These are but a few of the negative consequences that the ill-conceived closure has caused. The list is very long and the impact, direct and indirect, is great.
This is not all though. One wonders how Mr Granger can really talk about promoting agriculture when his regime has jacked up rentals tremendously in the MMA scheme and has imposed hundreds of taxes on small farmers.
In addition, this very man signed orders to seize lands from farmers in the West Berbice area. So callous was the regime that it tried to reap the crops from the farmers. That was only prevented because of the efforts of Anil Nandlall and the PPP, which went to court to stop the seizure.
The regime refused to lift a finger to assist rice farmers whenever they are faced with problems, not of their making. The APNU/AFC regime, like Pontius Pilate, ‘washed’ its hands and left the farmers to the elements when abandoning its responsibility to them. At one time, in justifying his abandoning of the farmers, he stated that the rice industry is private. To him, that translated into no assistance.
The caretaker President tried to hit the right sound bite but only exposed unwillingness or his inability to deal with real issues. He was just gaffing.
It is also crystal-clear why the President avoids the press: his real sentiments as being anti-farmers, anti-workers would be easily exposed.

Donald Ramotar
Former President