The Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services has been denied the approval of the Speaker of the National Assembly to conduct public forums on the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the sugar industry, following the announcement by Government to downsize it.
In a letter dated June 5 and addressed to Clerk of Committees, Letta Barker, House Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland said that a public forum did not seem appropriate for the Committee to undertake.
“I, therefore, disallow the request and withhold my consent for the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services to conduct public forums under the cover of the National Assembly,” the letter stated.
The Committee had requested since May 31, 2016 to conduct these public forums in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six on specific dates starting from June 7 to June 31, 2017. The request was made under Standing Order (95) 8 and the purpose of the public forums was to receive the views of the various stakeholders in the respective communities and prepare a report to be submitted to the National Assembly. Commenting on the issue, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament (MP) Komal Chand told Guyana Times that it was a majority decision by the Committee to have these public forums to get an understanding of what people within the industry feels about the decision to downsize.
Chand, who happens to also be the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), said that in the past, these requests were never denied, adding that he was not clear on what authority the Speaker has exercised.
“I don’t know why the Speaker is now standing in the way to have these forums which is so important for members of the Committee to ascertain the real issues and how it is affecting people,” he said. The Opposition MP said too that members of that same Committee have been meeting with the management and staff of GuySuCo, who did a presentation. The next meeting, according to him, is scheduled for June 29, when the team will appear before the Committee.
Following the announcement by Government to close more sugar estates and reduce the annual production of sugar with an overall plan to gradually downsize the industry, there has been much debate about the need for the white paper on sugar to be debated in the National Assembly.
Chand claimed that certain procedures have not been put in place by the Government to have the policy debated, explaining that it may not be on the agenda for the next sitting, which is June 15.
However, Chand believes that the policy decision taken is of national importance and it ought to be debated by the National Assembly.
“The information contained in that white paper has significant effect on the country, the people, and, particularly, the workers in the industry…,” he added.
The GAWU official also argued that the white paper presented vague information and did not go into detail on how this matter is going to be dealt with. According to him, Government spokespersons claimed that the Administration has not configured the rollout of this new policy fully.
Meanwhile, the PPP, in a statement late Monday evening, said that this latest move was seen as “another attack on parliamentary democracy by the Speaker”.
“Further, we view the rejection of this request, as nothing short of an abuse of power and an undue interference with, and restriction of, the democratic right of parliamentarians to properly represent their constituents and the reciprocal constitutional rights of these constituents to receive information from and exchange views with their elected representatives,” the Party said.
It pointed out that since the constitutional creation of the Standing Committees almost two decades ago, they have enjoyed unhindered freedom to discharge their mandate, both within and without the precincts of the National Assembly, without any restriction from the Speaker.
“The nation is very much aware of the public outings of other Sectoral Committees, eg the Sectoral Committee on Social Services conducts regular visits to public health institutions and other agencies which fall under their portfolio with the permission of the Speaker.”
It, therefore, begs the question, the Party stated as to why this sudden restriction was being placed upon the Economic Services Committee as it sought to discuss the sugar industry, which was so critical to the nation’s economic well-being and which represented the lifeblood of tens of thousands of people.
“The PPP also recalls the difficulties it encountered at the hands of the Speaker in getting motions debated on the floor of the National Assembly in relation to the sugar and rice industries.”
The Party is calling on the Speaker to review his decision forthwith and to grant permission to the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Economic Services to meet with the Guyanese people to discuss the future of GuySuCo and the sugar industry.
“If the Speaker fails to do so, we will find it extraordinarily difficult to persuade our constituents that the chair is not grossly lacking in impartiality,” the statement said.
Government has announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services provided by GuySuCo.
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder claimed that this process would result in improving the relationship with some cane cutters, estate staff and about 1710 private cane farmers, adding that GuySuCo’s sugar operations will be limited to the Albion-Rose Hall, Blairmont and Uitvlugt-Wales Estates. The estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all locations, according to the Agriculture Minister.
The Minister had also revealed plans to cut sugar production to approximately 147,000 tonnes per annum.
Several members of the Opposition PPP/C have maintained that the white paper on the industry confirmed that the industry was being “maliciously downsized” as a prelude for closure.