Sugar workers taken for a ride

Dear Editor,

With reference to your news item on the EU fund for restructuring the sugar industry, political parties and the politicians have treated the sugar industry as a political football to be kicked around.

When the European Union official inadvertently stated that $348 billion was given to Guyana under the PPP administration for sugar diversification, it should immediately raised red flags that something was flagrantly wrong with that astronomical number. The coalition Government roasted the opposition PPP querying what it did with that large amount of money intended for the sugar industry when it was in office. But PNC and AFC leadership would have known the figure was not right. The EU official corrected that it was $34.8 billion (about 150 M Euros), and the PPP felt a relief as though it did well managing the humungous fund. The EU gave the grant for agro diversification related to the sugar protocol act. The EU support was specifically aimed at mitigating the socio-economic impact of the removal of the support (guaranteed contracted price) for sugar imports under the Lome Convention. The grant was to support agro diversification including value-added production and downstream activities in the restructuring of the sugar industry. The money was supposed to go directly into the sugar industry and not for national budget support. Instead it was used to supplement their budget rather than to improve efficiency in the sugar industry and to guide sugar workers into private cane farming or to pursue agro diversification or to help sugar workers (and cane farmers) to move into other crop production. A decade later after the EU funds started to pour in, the workers have been rendered landless and many jobless. Today, social and economic indicators in the sugar belt lag behind those of other communities and economic growth in general; poverty is widespread and growing among sugar workers. The government failed them.

When in opposition, APNU and AFC campaigned on saving the sugar industry and not closing any estates. Now in Government, it us doing the opposite. At the same time, the PPP and GAWU and calling on the Government to give the land to the sugar workers, but when in government they did not do same. But hopefully, ex or current sugar workers have wised up. They should know they have been taken for a ride. For too long, sugar communities were made to suffer while politically exploited to build the careers of politicians who do not give a hoot about the workers.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram