ONE GOOD SUGGESTION DESERVES ANOTHER
It really does not matter where a good idea originates. Once it is good for the country, it should be seriously considered and adopted.
A few days ago, this column observed that it was patently unfair for the government to be charging Linden $15 per kilowatt hour while the rest of the country has to pay $64. This constitutes geographic discrimination.
It is therefore fitting that the government is attempting to bring tariffs in the Linden area in line with what is charged to other consumers. This is proposed to be done in a phased manner so as to reduce the impact on the pockets of Lindeners.
This column suggested a slight adjustment to the original plan. It urged that the government calculates the economic cost of supplying electricity in Linden and then reduce this cost through a subsidy that conforms to the national average.
It also suggested that instead of the subsidy being applied evenhandedly, it should be directed more at those whose monthly consumption of electricity was below a certain level.
This was more or less the same suggestion that was offered by APNU not long after in the Budget debates. The suggestion by APNU was welcomed by the Prime Minister.
So it really does not matter if the suggestion came from this column or if it came from APNU. It makes sense and it is good for Guyana, and the government should not feel in any way that they should reject the suggestion.
In fact what the government should be doing is listing all the useful suggestions that have been made by the combined opposition, so that when the time comes for the deliberations on the estimates, they could use these as negotiating chips with the opposition.
The opposition is going to want to show that it has the power to alter the government’s Budget. The government on the other hand will try hard to defend its spending priorities and may not be keen to slash chunks off of certain lines.
This is where the opposition’s useful proposals come in. The government can engage in horse-trading with the opposition parties. In return for accepting some, not all, of the opposition proposals, the government gets to pass substantively its Budget.
So far the proposal made about applying the subsidy more intensely to small consumers of electricity is a good one. It should be adopted.
This will also help to ease the pressure on the small man and ensure that the large consumers of electricity, including those persons who can afford to leave their lights on all night, do not benefit as much from the subsidy as the consumer who, for example, consumes below 200KW. At the same time, GPL has to reduce losses and dismiss corrupt staff.
Another useful suggestion that came out of the Budget was made by Mr. Rupert Roopnaraine. He urged that a parliamentary committee be established to examine the state-owned sugar corporation. This is not a bad suggestion at all, but like most things suggested by APNU, it can be improved upon.
What Guyana needs is not politicians quarreling over sugar. We have had enough of that. What is needed is a complete review of the operations of the sugar corporation, including the construction of the Skeldon factory. What is needed a commission of inquiry into, amongst other things, the penalties that were supposed to have been levied on the contractor after the first start-up of the factory encountered problems and tons of cane were left to spoil. What is needed is a review to determine whether there has been a sociological change in relation to sugar and whether we have reached the stage where persons are no longer keen on cutting cane because they can find more viable employment elsewhere.
In short, what is needed is not a parliamentary committee but an independent, non-partisan team comprising sugar experts and international planners, to review the state of the industry. The worse thing we can do now is subject the industry to the sort of political infighting that will arise if there is to be a review by a parliamentary committee.
It should be recalled that during the colonial era there were a number of commissions of inquiry which examined the workings of the sugar industry and the social conditions of workers.
If the British with so much to lose could have had these commissions of inquiry, then it is high time that we begin to do the same, utilising international experts. It ought to be clear by now that the turnaround plan for the sugar industry is not going to turn the industry around. It is clear that that plan miscomprehends the labour problem in the industry.
It now seems clear that there is an acute shortage of labour in the industry and this situation does not seem likely to get better. Without a reliable labour force, there will have to be revolutionary changes in the way the sugar industry is organised, including a move towards full-scale mechanisation.
The idea of Mr. Roopnaraine is good, but it would be much better for an independent commission of inquiry to be appointed to examine the operations of the sugar industry and to make recommendations as to the way forward.