– industry targets miserly 115,000 tonnes next year
The two factions of the Coalition Government are at odds with each other over the handling of the closure of the Rose Hall estate in East Berbice.
Yesterday, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, made it clear that Cabinet should have been notified of the intent of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to issue workers with redundancy letters last week.
More than 400 Rose Hall estate workers are said to be affected.
Rose Hall and Enmore estates were set to be closed this year based on a White Paper recommendation but Harmon indicated almost two weeks ago that this would not be happening this year.
However, yesterday during a break in the Budget 2018 debates in the National Assembly, Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder, was insistent to reporters that the decision is in keeping with what GuySuCo decided some time back and consistent with the recommendations of the White Paper on the sugar industry made public this year.
He was not surprised at the decision of GuySuCo to issue the redundancy letters to Rose Hall workers.
Holder said, from January 1, there is no cane in the ground and no work for Rose Hall employees. As such, there is no way for Rose Hall to continue its operations.
According to Holder, who is from the Alliance For Change faction of the Government, GuySuCo is bound to make its decisions and while the Special Purpose Unit will have its own ideas, the situation on the ground is continuing with no canes and no work available.
The closure of the sugar industry is a highly political issue with the Opposition People’s Progressive Party support base built on sugar estates.
With over 16,000 workers, and with the century-old factory at Wales closed last December, the prospect of two more estates shutting their gates at Christmas is not one easy to swallow.
Yesterday, Harmon confirmed reports in Kaieteur News that the handing out of redundancy letters by GuySuCo to Rose Hall workers has made at least his faction of the Government- the A Partnership For National Unity (APNU)– nervous.
He did not immediately make clear whether GuySuCo’s decision could be reversed when the matter reaches the level of Cabinet– the forum where ministers meet with President David Granger every week.
According to Harmon, GuySuCo is a state corporation which has been depending on billions of dollars annually for bailouts to keep its operations afloat.
However, overriding this is the administration’s bigger responsibility of ensuring that there is stability in the nation, that the people of this country- workers in particular- are treated fairly.
“We believe that at least some prior notification ought to have been given of this attempt…this letter that was sent out for these workers,” Harmon said.
The minister said that he is aware that GuySuCo had indicated that it would be taking this kind of action.
However, this would have come at a time when the administration had signaled other possibilities for the workers and estates.
Harmon would be referring to the operations of a Special Purposes Unit (SPU) which has been established to oversee the privatization and divestment of the number of estates including Skeldon, Rose Hall, Enmore and Wales.
Over 70 proposals have been received so far.
According to Harmon, one would have had regards to the several initiatives that are being taken by Government, including the fact that the SPU has actually said that it has some “very, very good responses to the offers”.
One would have thought that GuySuCo would have handled the matter differently. As it is, the dispatch of the letters to Rose Hall workers last week and the subsequent fallout have come out as a surprise.
However, while Cabinet was not involved, it could have been that the Ministry of Agriculture, was aware.
“…But what I can say is because of the nature of the matter that this is something that at least could have come to the Cabinet and give us some notification before time.
If in fact the action had to be taken some mechanisms could have been put into place, the minister said.
Harmon was unwilling to venture whether Cabinet is likely to reverse the effect of the issuance of those letter when it comes. However, once it is raised at that forum, it will be discussed.
“Just like the citizens of this country, I read about it in the newspaper (Kaieteur News yesterday) and I myself was surprised that a major decision like this the company would go ahead and do what it had to do.”
Minister Harmon said that the closure of the estates was rolled over to next year.
Yesterday, in his presentation during the budget debates, Holder painted a bleak picture for GuySuCo, once the biggest foreign currency earners and backbone for the country’s economy.
Since taking office, he said, Government has supported GuySuCo with $32B, with a $6.3B allocation in 2018 and another $2.3B estimated for 2019.
“However, capital investment of $12B will be required over the next three years 2018-2020 to ensure that the sugar production targets are met. Mr. Speaker, despite the magnitude of subsidies there has been no positive impact on the financial state of GuySuCo. The economy simply cannot afford this.”
Looking forward, he said that there will be improvements in productivity, with cane yields expected to rise from the current levels of 55 tonnes cane per hectare to 78.43 tonnes cane per hectare in 2018, a 41% increase.
“The improvement in yields will see the three remaining estates attaining close to their productivity potential. Sugar production will rise from 115,447 tonnes sugar in 2018 to 145,247 tonnes in 2020, an increase of 26%.”
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