I beg your indulgence to publish my response to the “Eyes on Guyana” column of Mr. Lincoln Lewis, appearing in the Kaieteur News of Sunday, October 07, 2018 entitled, “Serious Questions about Sam Hinds ‘moral authority’ in call for equal treatment for sugar and bauxite workers.” Editor, one should expect and even welcome serious questioning of what he presents, and I do. I am heartened that Mr. Lewis is not rejecting my call for equal treatment for sugar and bauxite workers but his representations are seriously distorted and misleading and he has knowingly or unknowingly propagated and hence sustained one seriously poisonous, divisive, untrue rumour.
Editor, I had thought when I read that the Cabinet led Task Force, of which Mr. Lincoln Lewis was a member, had recommended that these Rusal workers facing termination be paid a similar package that was applied in the case of Linmine in 1993 onwards, Bermine in 2002 onwards, I hoped that we were rounding a corner. For, by evidently acknowledging and taking our (PPP/C) arrangements for bauxite workers during those difficult years as a standard, I was thinking that there was the beginning of a recognition that we had not been the problem for the bauxite companies, workers and communities. Indeed, it seemed that the door was being opened to the thinking that we had been good for the bauxite companies, workers, and communities. I will not let this Lincoln Lewis column dash my hopes.
Editor, we, PPP/C, were always conscious of the need to treat our bauxite and sugar workers equally, if not, equitably. As we, PPP/C came into office in 1992, our bauxite and sugar sectors were in quite different economic situations and with very different prospects: bauxite having suffered huge losses since the mid-1970s and with grave doubts whether it could be profitable again and survive but sugar was returning to profits and its prospects looked bright, admittedly on the then seeming unending guarantee of the preferential prices of the Sugar Protocol. In those instances referred to by Mr. Lewis, where the bauxite sector was treated differently from the sugar sector, bauxite workers were treated better than what was specified by the various ‘conditionalities’ we, PPP/C, met in place. Rather than close down Linmine on that Minproc declaration in 1994 as prescribed, we resumed and maintained subsidies until interested core partners came along. And much the same happened with the bauxite operations on the Berbice River. That is another story. The eventual privatization of the bauxite companies was better than the previously prescribed alternative, which would have seen them closed down forthwith.
Concerning the continued waiver of income tax on overtime work in the case of sugar workers, it is true, but sugar workers would readily give up that incentive for the higher wage rates bauxite workers received before and more so since privatization (sugar workers have been complaining about a number of constrictions in the application of this waiver to them). That notwithstanding, it may be recalled that the Structural Adjustment/Economic Recovery Programme entered into by then President Hoyte included reforms aimed at reducing if not eliminating special and unique situations and the discretion of a President or a Finance Minister to grant financial incentives. The waiver of income tax on the overtime pay of bauxite and sugar workers and those workers only, stood out like a sore thumb. The waiver of income tax on overtime work is an incentive to both the enterprise and the worker. Many argued that that incentive was on challengeable legal and socio-political grounds. It was largely excused on arguing that Government was under pressure to incentivize the workers in these two most important state owned industries, by finding one way or another to increase their after-tax take-home pay. We were uneasy with this waiver and anticipated its ending on the occasion of privatization or on significant upward movement of wage scales in the sector. There was no targeting of bauxite workers in this.
There is absolutely no truth in Mr. Lewis’ claim that a steam turbine was removed from the bauxite operations. Mr. Lewis and others are invited to visit the steam power station, now derelict, and see for themselves that the three turbines are still there. I call on him to show where, in any so-called PPP stronghold, the steam turbine is/was set-up. Further, even if it had been so, Mr. Lewis should know that GPL electricity supply grid is such that it could not supply that electricity to only that stronghold. Indeed, we PPP/C see our electricity grid and supply (GPL) as one of the integrating mechanisms of our people and country. To be frank and for full disclosure, I will say that some parts from one of a number of discarded GM diesel sets in the diesel power station by the McKenzie Bridge were taken to help rehab a similar engine in GPL’s small diesel power station at Onverwagt. It would have helped supply electricity to Bush Lot but also to Lichfield and Hopetown all on the West Coast Berbice, and what Mr. Lewis could have been wrong with that? One can suspect that this could have been jazzed up to give birth to that rumour. Whatever the case, Mr. Lewis is here knowingly or unknowingly repeating and sustaining a seriously poisonous, divisive, untrue rumour, which as a recognized elder, looked up to by a significant number of our fellow Guyanese, is to be greatly regretted.
(Because of its length, we are publishing this letter in three parts)
Samuel A.A. Hinds
Former Prime Minister and Former President.
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