When one analyses what is currently taking place in Region Six, one cannot help but conclude that Berbicians are being totally neglected by this Coalition Government; and some would say it is intentional.
In 2016, the closure of the estates began; with Wales being the first to go, followed by Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon estates. When the death knell was sounded for Rose Hall and Skeldon estates, Berbicians knew that this region would never be the same again.
A sharp economic decline was the result, with nearly four thousand workers being proverbially thrown under the bus, an atrocity disguised as ‘resizing and restructuring’. The ripple effect was devastating, with businesses following suit — retrenching hundreds of workers, since they had to ‘resize and restructure’ as well. The Region Six economy began to crumble, and this resulted in a multitude of unemployed and impoverished persons scavenging for menial work and being paid pittances by some unscrupulous businessmen, not to mention the personal abuse, expletives and disparaging statements meted out to them by employers who demanded long hours of work.
Our children became aware of what poverty is for the first time, since many could not have afforded to go to school, and those who went had to forego many things they had taken for granted under the previous PPP/C Government.
But alas! Just before this tsunami inundated Region 6, our President was making bold, politicising statements across Berbice, such as, “You are the sugar bowl of the country, the rice pot of the country, the fish market of the country…we look to East Berbice-Corentyne to lead the economic recovery of the whole country…Berbice has the potential…”(February, 2016). It is now clear to all and sundry that he never meant those words he uttered; they were just empty rhetoric.
We have now seen that the ‘rice pot’ is getting smaller, and farmers are poised to make huge losses this crop due to paddy bugs’ infestation, a phenomenon which has had devastating effects over the past years, but which has been denied and masked due to the fact that rice farmers continue to produce at a high level. In 2017-18, the rice output was higher than expected, up 18 per cent when compared to 2016-17, but these statistics failed to reveal the losses sustained from damaged paddy crops. Many small rice farmers were thrown out of business, and many cannot service loans obtained from the financial institutions and from rice millers who advanced finances to them.
This group of sufferers is not highlighted, and the Government prefers to ignore their plight. They are expendables in the scheme of things!
Since this Coalition Government took office, no economic transformational projects were undertaken in Region 6. Can you imagine the entire Region 6 is transformed into ground zero with the sugar fallout, but nothing was done to alleviate the socio-economic plight of Berbicians? One enterprising entrepreneur, Mr Mohindra Persaud of Nand Persaud Group of Companies, took it upon himself to save the entire rice industry from suffering a fate similar to sugar. He experimented with aerial spraying and the productive gains were tremendous. He then applied for permission to build an airstrip to do crop dusting, and received favourable responses from the Government; however, after spending more than $25 million, he was given the ‘royal run around’ from one Ministry to the next, from one Government official to the next, and from one excuse to the next!
Can you imagine that all that was needed was some legal formality by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure? The Minister has the power to approve such an airstrip (Civil Aviation Act, Section 17), but we all know why businessmen are normally given the ‘royal run around’! Nand Persaud is not in the corruption business! This one project would not have cost the Government a dollar, but the economic benefits would have been tremendous when a 25 per cent recovery from pest damage is brought into the equation.
However, the ‘Coalition circus’ is coming to Berbice, and I do hope the President can revisit his words and allow the Nand Persaud crop dusting airstrip to come to fruition. It is only then that the ‘rice pot’ would be bigger and overflow!