The future of the sugar industry (SUGAR) and GuySuCo is a crucial, monumental issue in the upcoming general elections. The results of the elections will determine whether SUGAR is part of the future of Guyana or whether we end SUGAR. Irfaan Ali and the PPP have vigorously pledged they will reopen closed estates, diversify sugar products, including processed and packaged sugar, co-generation of electricity, and biofuel production. SUGAR is still a big part of the Guyanese economy and a major employer of Guyanese workers— a major foreign currency earner. The PPP and Bharrat Jagdeo insist SUGAR makes absolute socioeconomic sense and it is a non-negotiable proposition. Badal’s party has totally rejected the PPP’s position. The other new parties have been shamelessly silent. APNU/AFC remains adamant that closing sugar estates and firing more than 7000 sugar workers were the right things to do. For elections March 2020, the lines are firmly drawn, the PPP on one side, the side of SUGAR and the sugar workers, and all the others anti-SUGAR.
It was clear since 2014, however, that APNU/AFC was determined to close sugar. When APNU/PNC held a press conference chaired by Joe Harmon and proposed ending SUGAR, replaced by tilapia, they clearly had made up their minds. When they promised just before the May 2015 general elections they would not close any sugar estate, and that “sugar was too big to fail”, they clearly were disguising their intention, knowingly making a fake promise for the purpose of the elections. Indeed, since May 2015, the Granger-led APNU/AFC has done everything to end SUGAR in Guyana, the bogus excuse being SUGAR is a “drain on the national treasury”, not financially feasible. This time around they cannot fool anyone.
This year’s sugar production is likely to be the worst since the 1950s. Last year’s production was just 104,000 tonnes. This is less than half what the production was in 2015 when it was more than 231,000 tonnes. From export earnings of more than US$250M in 2015, export earnings were just US$27M last year. This year’s production will fall under 100,000 tonnes for the first time in many decades. Export earnings will fall below US$25M. As depressing as this is, there is the outstanding issue of the $30B loan GuySuCo has been saddled with. No one can explain where the money is. Supposedly, more than $17B has been dispersed. But to whom? GuySuCo has not confirmed receipt of this amount and, last time we heard from GuySuCo, they claimed they had received just about $2B. NICIL/SPU, which arranged the loan, claimed they dispersed more than $17B but neither they nor GuySuCo or the Ministries of Finance and Agriculture can explain how they expended that sum. What we do know is they have already paid almost $140M in interest and, by the end of this year, the interest payment would have exceeded $200M.
In the meanwhile, the existing factories have not been maintained, with downtime at the three operating factories more than 700 hours for the second-crop. Workers have been subjected to deferred and late payments, further demoralising them. Not a single senior official from APNU/AFC has attempted to meet with workers, even though the workers have taken to peacefully public protest in front of the Office of the President. Worse, attempts have been made to prevent the workers from protesting. These workers have not had a wage increase since 2014. It is commendable that when TROY Gold Resources sent home about 200 workers a few weeks ago, Raphael Trotman quickly went to meet with them, albeit only after the PPP pressured a response. But no one has met with the 7000 fired workers and their families and no one has met with the existing workers who have been working as the only workers in Caricom who have not received a wage increase for five years.
While APNU/AFC recklessly uses financial feasibility as the excuse to close SUGAR, Jagdeo and the PPP argue there are compelling socio-economic reasons for keeping SUGAR. SUGAR is the largest single employer in Guyana, after the public service. SUGAR provides the bulk of the drainage and irrigation in Regions 3, 4, 5 and 6. SUGAR plays a critical role in the viability of the NIS and contributes considerably to the Government’s income tax receipt, is a significant foreign currency earner. SUGAR also creates a whole village economy that falls like dominoes when SUGAR is not working. See what has taken place in Wales, Patentia, West Bank Demerara, Canje, Enmore and LBI. The vendors in the community markets in these areas, taxi drivers, grocery shop owners, tailors and seamstresses, jewellers and barbers and hairdressers have seen their livelihoods gone up in smokes. The economic cost of this reckless Government action is disgraceful. APNU/AFC imposed poverty on more than 40,000 innocent citizens. But the impact is being felt throughout Guyana.
As the March 2020 general elections approach, SUGAR’s demise is closer. APNU/AFC has a vicious plan to close Uitvlugt and Blairmont, leaving Albion for now. A return of APNU/AFC will mean the end of SUGAR. This must not happen.