Residents tell of financial burdens

…describe community as “ghost town”

By Shemuel Fanfair

Operation of the century-old Wales Sugar Estate was brought to an end in December 2016; now, seven months on, hucksters at all the markets contiguous to the West Bank Demerara community of Wales, apart from those who formerly worked at the estate and residents in the surrounding communities, are reporting being affected by the drastic and wide-reaching effects that have followed the entity’s downsizing.
Guyana Times visited the Wales community on Saturday, and observed both the impending and current financial constraints facing residents.
Leela Samaroo, who has sold at the Wales Market for almost 40 years — about the same time that she wed her now elderly husband — has observed much decline in sales over the last several months.
“Right now I eased up with the buying, because people don’t [have] money to buy,” Samaroo explained.
Having set up shop for a few hours on Saturday morning, Samaroo decided she had had it for the day. At about 11:30 hrs, she gathered her goods, the majority of which had not been sold, and explained that much produce was left over from the major market day on Friday, which had also seen reduced sales. She was heading home.
Fifty-three-year-old Pam Bhagwandin sells frozen meat from a cooler. She plies her trade next to Leela Samaroo. She told Guyana Times that, for the last two days, she hardly made any sales because many persons have changed their eating patterns to suit their reduced budget.
She explained that she incurs a two-way cost travelling to the Wales Market from the nearby village of Stanleytown, and she has been a vendor since the 1980s. She stressed that she is finding difficulty in paying her electricity and water bills, and added that with her 60-year-old husband being sick, she has had to shelve plans to repair her home.
Asked to compare and assess the changes witnessed between July 2016 and July 2017, the woman explained that all she has witnessed is “worse” than before.
“If you coulda save a dollar, you can’t even save half. With the chicken place where I buy from, I got a hold-over every week, but the people tell me husband since last week and this week that they can’t do hold-over because the money what you sell and send back can’t do to pay the bills,” the woman noted.
Meanwhile Peter George, a retired security guard who worked at the Wales Estate, related that he was able to avoid all the employment-related problems associated with closure of the Wales Estate. The 66-year-old noted that money is not circulating in surrounding communities, including Patentia, Vriesland, Wales, Goed Intent, Sisters, and Bellvue.
He said that even the liquor shops are empty, as many laid off sugar workers are out looking for jobs.
It was later explained by a Patentia resident that men are opting to purchase their alcohol from supermarkets and imbibe at home, rather than in large groups at rum shops.
Cleveland Brummell, 44, of Two Field, Patentia, had worked at the Estate since he was 16, but it all ended when he opted for severance, which he finally obtained by early March. This he partly used to fund a down payment on a motorcar, which he intends to have operated for hire. However, he told <<Guyana Times>> that there is intense competition on the roads, as many workers have purchased cars but fewer passengers are travelling.
Brummell noted, that in the meantime, he climbs coconut trees and engages in other odd jobs to make ends meet. He explained that he assists in caring for his elderly father, who is in his 70s. His mother passed away some time ago.
The man expressed that he prefers not to even think about his current financial state, when he compares it to what he had earned.
Local Pandit and Justice of the Peace, Chandreeca Persaud, said his family operated their small shop since the 1970s. He explained that with the estate’s closure, small business enterprises are collapsing as community members turn to supermarkets which often offer cheaper prices on many items.
Persaud leads thousands of devotees, and in his view, the area has become a “ghost town”, a description which was coined long before by several workers and residents when the closure was confirmed in January 2016.
The veteran Pandit told this publication that crime is the community’s greatest affliction. Persaud noted that several delivery trucks and shops were robbed in the past four months. He added that the communities are facing problems with juvenile theft, as many young persons are without employment.
“You can’t leave anything down in your yard,” Pandit Persaud expressed.
On the flipside, Anil Singh is a young proprietor who is making strides and expanding his business. He runs an Internet Café and Video Shop in Patentia, but told this newspaper of the financial challenges that many youths in the Wales area are encountering. The Patentia resident explained that he assists secondary school students, churches and mandirs with information technology classes.
Singh revealed an alternative side to all the harrowing stories of hardships and despair that has befallen Wales. He explained that some families have united and drawn nearer to each other as they face the brunt of the financial hardships brought on by the estate’s closure.
Closure of the Wales Estate was rationalised by Government as a cost-saving measure allegedly after billions of dollars had been allocated to the declining sugar industry. Scaling down of other estates across the country has since been announced. The Administration’s State Paper on the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has confirmed the impending closure of Enmore and Rose Hall sugar estates; privatisation of the Skeldon sugar factory; and an overall reduction of the annual production of sugar.
However, the Parliamentary Opposition and other stakeholders have long called for social impact studies to be carried out to assess how communities across the sugar belt would be affected when estates are closed.
Some estimates have pegged a figure of some 10,000 sugar workers being directly affected by estate closures. Additionally, the closures will affect the workers’ family members and the local economies that are dependent on the once thriving industry that brought the foreparents of the majority of Guyanese people to the shores of their homeland.