Jan 22, 2016 News
The Opposition finally had its day to discuss important matters of its choice yesterday in the National
Assembly. First on the agenda was its motion to debate the imminent closure of the Wales Estate, which was recently announced by the Granger-led administration.
Moving the motion was Opposition member, Komal Chand.
Chand, who is also President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union, (GAWU) called for the other items placed on the agenda of the House to be adjourned, and for there to be a debate over the closure of the Wales Estate.
He told the Members of the National Assembly that a substantial number of sugar workers and their families, and thousands of others, who depend on this facility for their livelihood, will be placed on the breadline because of this move by Government.
He said that it is a move that will have dire economic consequences. He said that the motion is important; it was being moved to cause the government to reverse its decision to close the estate. Chand said that the motion was one which requires urgent or immediate attention, since this announcement to close the estate was made by the Ministry of Agriculture just a few days ago.
“When it was announced, it had a rippling effect on not only the sugar workers, but the thousands of people in the community and so on…This is contrary to what we were told, and what was expected from the government when they took office.
“The workers in that area felt betrayed by this decision. This matter strikes to the root of the people of that area, and even beyond, as many close communities are worried about it. There should be no objection to this. We must take into consideration the message we will be sending to the people should the motion be ignored,” the Opposition member asserted.
Chand had also sent a letter to House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland, for the adjournment
of the National Assembly to debate the matter. The Speaker made it clear that such requests for the House to be adjourned should fulfill three absolute requirements as outlined in the Standing Orders. He said that such requests should be definite, urgent, and of public importance.
Dr. Scotland said that the request by Chand only fulfills two of the indispensable criteria—definite and of public importance.
The House Speaker said, “Indeed the matter is a definite one and it is of public importance. But based on the reports we have seen, the closure of the Wales Estate will take effect at the end of the year. In that case, it does not fulfill the absolute requirement of being urgent.”
The Opposition’s motion was subsequently denied.
Eighteen members of the Opposition then stood up, with the Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira explaining that in the case of such a request being denied, the Opposition can then invoke another Standing Order of the House which allows for the said motion to be supported by those members.
Teixeira said that she did not agree with the Speaker’s interpretation of “urgent” and emphasized that the nation should not wait until the end of the year to debate such an important matter.
Even though she pointed out two other instances where such motions were moved and upheld by past Speakers, Dr. Scotland said that his decision on the matter is final and shall be upheld.
Meanwhile, outside of the Parliament stood scores of peaceful protestors, most of whom were sugar workers. They vehemently objected to the looming closure of the Wales Estate. They believe that Government is being callous and failing to see just what kind of impact the move will have on the community.
One protestor said, “I am a father of five. I have to provide for my family every living day, yet this government is looking to close the Wales Estate. They want to take bread out of our mouths. Where will we go? How we gonna eat after year end? We ain’t know what is going to happen to us. We feel betrayed by this government.
“The PPP warned us about the Granger Government. They can’t come and speak to us anymore. This is going to be the Government biggest mistake so early this year. They really break the hearts of the members of the Wales community.”
Another estate worker supported his colleague as he held a placard which read, “Don’t Close Wales!!”
He said, “This Government tricked us. They told us during the elections that they will not close down. They will improve sugar and things will get better. Now they want to close Wales. This feels like a plan to leave us poor forever. This Government does not want to see us move up. They alone want to move up. They want to eat a big piece of the pie and even take away the li’l crumbs we used to get. This is cold and heartless.
“Whatever happened to talking to us before you make these decisions? The President and all he ministers travelling all over the place all the time, but they can’t come and talk to us about this. We can never forgive this Government for this.”
It was earlier this week that Government made it known that the country’s poorest performing sugar factory at Wales, West Bank Demerara will be closed this year-end, with some staffers to be absorbed by the Uitvlugt estate.
The new administration had been hinting at the closure of the Wales estate since last year. It was even mentioned in the report by the Commission of Inquiry which is currently being studied by the administration.
Cost-cutting is one of the key actions for the industry which has been facing tough times, especially over the last decade.
The Ministry of Agriculture had said that the investment required to refurbish the Wales estate remains significant, with the finances simply not available.
“Diverting funds from the other estates to keep Wales afloat would seriously jeopardize the future of these estates. This cannot be allowed to happen. It is impossible to make sugar production at Wales viable. This is made worse by the gloomy outlook for sugar prices for the foreseeable future.”
This year, Wales estate is projected to make a loss of between $1.6 and $1.9 Billion.
“This coupled with the extent of refurbishment needed renders this estate prohibitively costly to maintain.”
The decision was one which attracted nothing but condemnation from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). The Opposition had said that decision is one which smacks of being cold-hearted and without any consideration for the livelihood of the workers, their families and the thousands of dependents.
On Wednesday, GuySuCo’s management held meetings with representatives of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) and the Guyana Agricultural and GAWU. Chief on the agenda was the recent decision to close the Wales estate.
Head of GAWU, Komal Chand, had confirmed that while the meeting was held, much remained unresolved. Among the examples presented by Chand was the fact that a decision has not been reached on who will make up the list of workers to be made redundant, or when this will be compiled.
It is understood that GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Errol Hanoman indicated that there will be future meetings to determine who on the list of employees at Wales will be transferred to the Uitvlugt estate. However, before such is done, the list has to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour.
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