By Kiana Wilburg
President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Clinton Urling says that while he supports the $6B allocated in this year’s budget for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Government needs to get serious about getting the company to be efficient. He also noted that Government needs to devise a plan for the diversification of the sugar industry.
At a press conference yesterday held at the GCCI’s boardroom, Urling had initially stated that the subsidy for the state owned company is necessary considering its state and the consequential social and economic consequences that would occur if the company was to stumble further.
He said that annual Government subsidies to GuySuCo are an unsustainable strategy and measures would have to be put in place to diversify the products manufactured by the entity such as energy, confectionaries, molasses, animal feed etc. Additionally, he said that underperforming estates can be sold or offered at concessionary rental rates to multinational firms looking to invest and set up their manufacturing and industrial operations.
Urling said that this would absorb any employment that is lost as a result of the estates’ closure.
A number of persons expressed concern recently over the fact that despite millions of dollars being pumped into GuySuCo over the years, it continues to underperform. This is evident in its continued decline in production. Considering this, Urling was asked whether he would call for a study on the part of Government to justify how the budgeted $6B would make a difference.
Urling responded, “We supported it (the allocation) on the grounds that you have to take current realities into consideration. I always believe if you are going to make an adjustment when it comes to certain services you need to cater for the resulting consequences. I can’t support at the moment, knowing that the entity is underperforming that we say don’t supply any subsidy. Thousands of labourers would be affected. No responsible policy maker should ever decide on a strategy like that.”
He continued, “If you do a study …it should make recommendations to improve the industry and… try to find ways to absorb any shortfall in terms of the social and economic (effects)…like I have said, every year we are coming down and we say we need a subsidy for GuySuCo but what we need to do is maybe scale back on some of the operations of GuySuCo , transfer some of the resources and maybe the funding and the human capital towards the value added diversification into some of the products or like I said close some of the underperforming estates, but not arbitrarily but within a clear framework and strategy.”
He added, “ If we can attract investors who might be able to produce sugar at a better rate then you privatize some of the estates, or you sell an estate to a private sector or multi-national firm looking to invest in anything…and until you have that and you have some assurances that more jobs will be created as a result to take up some of the losses then you move forward… but you don’t get up one morning and decide you should just stop subsidizing it…it would be irresponsible to cut the allocation arbitrarily without telling the people what’s the plan for those who would be affected.”
The GCCI President was then asked by this publication, why Government should not be asked to provide a plan as to how the $6B allocation will be efficient.
To this he said, “I totally agree with you… It is the job of the Opposition and the people sitting in the room, the reporters, to ensure that the Government has and produces a strategy for GuySuCo’s diversification and I think there have been many comments from political leaders. I have heard the Alliance For Change and the Agricultural Expert of the A Partnership for National Unity, Anthony Vieira speaking on the issue of diversification. Government needs to get serious about GuySuCo and its diversification and it becoming an efficient and effective agency … you can’t come every year running back to your Parliament or your national coffers for $6 B and say look that’s our strategy. It’s just not sustainable.”
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