Apr 07, 2018 News
Attorney-at-law Christopher Ram thinks that the Government of Guyana has been callous in its approach to the scaling down of the sugar industry. He said that Guyana will have to face the dire consequences of this “cruel and shortsighted” stance taken by the Government.
Ram also thinks that it is not too late for the government to do some damage control. The accountant has since offered some measures that he feels can cushion the proverbial blow.
Addressing the recent sixth triennial conference of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), Ram acknowledged that the conference is taking place against the backdrop of massive layoff and termination at the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
He noted that it is estimated that when the “so-called reorganization” of GuySuCo is completed, approximately 10,000 persons whose only job-skills are linked to that work will be placed on the breadline to eke out a living along with approximately 50,000 dependents.
Ram said that he couldn’t find anything parallel. “In terms of sheer numbers, this must be single largest layoff in the history of Guyana.”
The Accountant noted that neither the Government nor the Corporation has put in place mechanisms to cushion the financial, social, economic and personal impact and consequences on lives and livelihoods of these people.
Ram said that irrespective of one’s political opinion or views on the ethnicity of those to be affected, “the Government’s handling of the crisis for which they alone are not responsible, not only leaves much to be desired, but seems callous, remorseless, insensitive, cruel and shortsighted.”
Ram recalled that when the APNU+AFC Government first came to power, it appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by a former Minister of the PNC Government, Vibert Parvatan, and Economist Dr. Clive Thomas.
He said that the report and recommendations of that Commission of Inquiry have been ignored by the very Government that appointed it. Then came a White Paper presented to the National Assembly by the Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder.
Ram said, “Hardly any time elapsed before that initiative was abandoned and a vesting Order was made carving out substantial assets to NICIL which the same Government when in opposition had treated with derision and disdain.”
The Accountant noted that the assets were transferred to NICIL at no cost “arguably in violation of both legal and accounting principles and then the Government, with a straight face, tells the workers that there is no money to pay the barest minimum to which the law entitles them under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act. Most bizarrely, responsibility for GuySuCo has now been transferred from the Minister of Agriculture to the Minister of Finance leaving one to wonder what the Ministry of Agriculture now does.”
Ram made it clear that it is not a case where he is arguing for the saving of the industry or saying that the government should continue to absorb the losses. “I had consistently criticized the mismanagement of the Corporation under the PPP/C.
“I recall a column I did under the caption that GuySuCo was too big to succeed. Measures were clearly necessary to address the haemorrhaging, which had been taking place in the Corporation for several years for which the workers and their Unions faced the brunt of the blame.
“But surely this Washington Consensus based approach, to resolving the Corporation’s problems, is shortsighted and will create as many problems as it has created.”
Ram said that the danger of taking the approach chosen by the government is to drain the lifeblood of entire communities leading inexorably to withering and death.
“For the political elite, including Messrs. Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan, this is just another policy action with no concern for people, and which fails to understand the broader implications of such action.”
Ram offered a few measures, which he feels should be taken by the government.
He said that the workers must be paid their statutory entitlement to Severance Pay promptly and fully. Ram said that the workers must be encouraged and assisted in the difficult task of retraining and re-education.
“We are too small a society to throw a significant segment of the population to survive as best as they could. As a society, we have a responsibility to assist the most vulnerable in our midst. In the case of the Government, that is a duty.”
Ram said that workers should be given lands to carry out the trade and earn their livelihood in the activity in which they are most proficient.
He said that the value to the Government of some privatization proceeds in the short term is simply not worth the long-term effects of deprivation of some safety net to the workers.
Ram said that businesses must be encouraged and given incentives to employ terminated GuySuCo employees. He added that new economic activities, and businesses, established in the areas affected by the closures, which create new employment should be granted the incentives available under Section 2 of the Income Tax (In Aid of Industry) Act.
Ram also recommended that direct and indirect contributions to the welfare of terminated GuySuCo employees including scholarships to the children of those workers should be made tax deductible, at least for businesses.
“This is no more than an indicative list. It is not exhaustive and I am sure these can be added to. The challenge is whether the Government has closed a discussion which it never started or encouraged; has ceased to listen, and equally important, whether the Unions representing these workers and which have become financially strong on the dues from those workers, have the will and the energy to defend and advance the cause for the workers.”
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