Reopening sugar estates to reverse APNU/AFC devastation of sugar communities – President Ali
…says no need for divisive comparisons
President Dr Irfaan Ali has made it clear that the Government has no apologies to make for the money it is spending to turn around the fortunes of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and returning jobs to the displaced sugar workers.
He made this pronouncement on Saturday when asked about the concerns from other sections of the workforce. According to the President, the devastating socio-economic impact of the closure of sugar estates is obvious for all to see when visiting communities in the sugar belt.
“You have to understand, there was no socio-economic analysis of the impact of the closure of the estates. We forget that, we’re missing that question. We don’t want to answer to that anymore.”
“We understand. You can physically see the socio-economic impact of the closure of the estates in those communities. And we can’t have apologies for bringing back those jobs, creating those jobs,” Ali also said.
According to the President, they are not just providing support for the sugar sector but rather, other sectors will also benefit from the recently passed $330 billion emergency budget. He noted that similar to the sugar sector, they have no apologies to make for the support they are giving to other sectors.
“Similarly, we can’t have apologies for the subsidies and efforts we’re going to put into bauxite or mining. Then I heard the budget is a Private Sector budget. How do we create growth and employment? So those are the types of narratives I find to be convenient and divisive.”
As part of its policy to downsize sugar, the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government had closed down the Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore sugar estates. The downsizing of the sugar industry saw only the Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion Estates remaining in operation. However, their decision to close estates went against what their own Commission of Inquiry (CoI) recommended.
Critically, the former Government made no provisions for sugar workers, who were thrown on the breadline and had to protest for their severance payments. Communities in the sugar belt suffered the devastating economic and social effects of the estate closures, as families were left with no income and breadwinners were left unemployed. Even the remaining estates were left unable to meet their targets.
In an effort to bring back the sugar sector to its previous state of profitability, the new PPP/C Government had approached India for assistance with the reopening of the closed estates. The Indian Government had, in the past, offered technical assistance to Guyana in the sugar sector, but this was never capitalised on by the former coalition Government.
The Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) had also called on the new Government to revive the closed estates in order to boost the production of molasses, which is a key and critical ingredient in several industries here.
Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) is the largest local consumer of molasses, and since the closure of the estates, the beverage giant has had to import molasses from various countries, including Guatemala and Mexico, which it is currently buying from. Although Uitvlugt was producing molasses, the quantity was insufficient, thus forcing DDL to import the deficit amount for its production.
The PPP Government has set itself a target of rehiring 442 sugar workers by year-end, with 200 of this number already rehired. The Government has also set itself the Herculean task of ensuring that the closed estates are fully functional by 2023/2024.
In the 2020 Budget, GuySuCo has been allocated $5 billion. According to the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Sasenarine Singh, the initial stage will see $2.2 billion being pumped into the reopening of the estates, while $800 million will go towards maintenance of the existing estates at Uitvlugt, Albion and Blairmont.