Amid finger-pointing by stakeholders, Government has accused the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – of doing little to help the current situation.
They brought nothing to the table in terms of solution, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, said yesterday.
The official was at the time responding to questions on the sugar restructuring programme that has been embarked on by the administration.
Almost 5,000 workers from four estates have been given redundancy letters in the past 13 months, from Wales, Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon estates.
While Government is insisting that actions stemmed from plans that have long been in the works and was designed to reduce the bleeding of the Treasury, the PPP and the unions are battling it out for the workers.
This week, there were continuing protests at Rose Hall, Berbice.
According to the Minister, while there have been criticisms of the decisions, it is a fact that the Opposition never provided an exit plan.
This was despite the Government, time and again, inviting them to offer solutions to help the embattled industry.
In fact, the administration laid its proposal on the table.
“The Government said this is our proposal. This is what we propose to do about the situation and we are asking the other stakeholders at the table here, to produce your plan and let us work together in the interest of this country, in the interest of the industry, to ensure that we have something that is workable,” he stated.
However, it was only the unions – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) that submitted.
The Opposition never presented one, Harmon disclosed.
The Opposition, instead, demanded an impact assessment study to be conducted.
“What I am saying; you had the industry for 20 years…you must have understood what the impact was …and you are waiting now until we are in office to ask us to do an impact assessment study when there were strict timelines in which certain things were to be done.”
In spite of all the “noise and chatter”, the Minister said a plan of action is not being provided.
Even at the 11th hour, he said, Government is still prepared to engage the Opposition and all other stakeholders-including the unions-on the future of the industry.
He explained that the $2B to be paid to workers this month-end as the first half of severance to redundant sugar will be calculated based on workers’ years of service and their salaries.
Harmon reiterated Government’s commitment, noting that the importance of sugar workers and their families is critical.
The spokesman pointed to the recent statement of President David Granger this week where it was noted that a number of programmes have been unveiled to assist workers adjust.
Amidst criticisms, he clarified, that the sugar industry is being ‘right-sized’, since to date some $32B and counting is being expended to an industry that is no longer financially viable.
He noted, “The Government could no longer allow a situation like that to continue, and has stepped in for the affected sugar workers so that their entitlement under the law can be effected.”
On a monthly basis, the Government has been investing $1B in the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to manage the recurring issues.
“Even while in the opposition, it was clear to us that the constant applications of GuySuCo to the government for bailout sums, was something that we needed to address,” Minister Harmon said.
When this administration took office, the State Minister recalled, the decision was taken to address the matter in a systematic manner.
Reference was made to the efforts by the Government, including the Commission of Inquiry, the setting up of the Special Purpose Unit and the laying of the State Paper and other extensive steps towards engagement, regarding the future of the sector.
The Minister, while not naming it, also pointed out the significant interest of at least one company- Demerara Distillers Limited- which has signalled its intentions in Enmore Estate to protect its molasses supply.
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