– regional forum to discuss issue later this month
The losses in recent years have been mounting up with tough decisions to be made. But total
closure of the country’s sugar industry seems a long way off. As a matter of fact, according to the Coalition Government, it is handling the sugar crisis on a number of levels – at the National Assembly and at the regional forums.
Both approaches are intended to ensure sugar is viable again after more than a decade and half of poor production and multimillion-dollar losses.
On Tuesday, the sugar situation dominated talks at the all-important conference hosted at State House involving government ministers, and which also discussed a number of the major issues facing the country.
According Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, Government is planning to very shortly take a White Paper to the National Assembly with regards to the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
Speaking during a post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday, Harmon said that Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder briefed other Ministers of Government on the way forward in relation to the future of GuySuCo’s workers.
Government has been bailing out the cash-strapped sugar corporation with billions of dollars in subvention annually. From August 2015 to present, Government has plugged $32 Billion into GuySuCo.
Last year, the state-owned company reported it owed creditors more than $70B. Sugar is also being produced almost twice for what it is sold to its major European buyers.
It has been unable to reach annual targets, except for 2015. Last year, it fell 30,000 tonnes compared to the previous year and with the new US$200M Skeldon estate not grinding for the first crop due to technical problems with its power generation, the immediate future looks bleak for sugar.
Last year, the new administration closed Wales, the 100-year-old West Demerara estate, saying it was racking up to $2B in losses. The majority of workers were moved to Uitvlugt with a few others made redundant. The private cane farmers there have been offered some of the cane lands to do farming.
The matter has been an explosive political one, as more than 17,000 workers involved with the industry were unable to receive bonuses for the first time last year.
“The conference was briefed that the matters in relation to GuySuCo are ongoing. It was also informed that a process of consultation with the Opposition, trade unions and other workers’ representatives had been concluded and the options which were advanced by the government, and proposals submitted by GAWU (Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union) will form the basis of a White Paper that will be laid in the National Assembly shortly,” Harmon explained Thursday.
A White Paper is an informational document issued by governments to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product or service.
The future of GuySuCo’s workers has been high on the government’s agenda, Harmon stressed.
Cabinet took the decision in late 2016 to engage in consultations at the soonest possible time to ensure that the best interest of all stakeholders will be considered.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, who led the consultations, accepted proposals from GAWU and others at the final meeting which was held during the month of February.
Meanwhile, later this month, Guyana will join the region in exploring options to protect its sugar market.
Harmon disclosed that the Agriculture Minister will journey to Jamaica for the two-day conference on sugar in Jamaica, organized by stakeholders and designed to find some solutions.
It is the hope that the conference will determine a pathway on the sugar industries in the region with the aim to ensuring a proper tax on extra-regional imports. It is also the idea to discuss ways to protect local sugar products and diversification.
The ideas generated will be forwarded to governments of CARICOM’s member states and the sugar stakeholders, Minister Harmon said.
With regards to the White Paper, there are proposals for estates closure, but these have to be discussed as they are part of several recommendations, Harmon disclosed. He explained that the White Paper will include proposals from GuySuCo, its union GAWU, ideas from the Opposition, and recommendations from a Commission of Inquiry that had been ordered.
According to the Minister of State, also to be conveyed in the National Assembly will be Government’s perspective, cost recovery, transfer of health centres controlled by GuySuCo, Skeldon diversification, lease lands and more importantly, the future of workers.
Harmon admitted that the impact of foreign exchange for sugar on the economy was also raised Tuesday.
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