The country’s biggest sugar union has expressed its concerns over the divestment process involving four sugar estates that have been separated from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
The concerns were raised on Monday when the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) met with a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF team is currently visiting Guyana to undertake the fund’s annual Article IV consultation.
The GAWU team which engaged the six-person team for over an hour, was led by its Assistant General Secretary, Aslim Singh, and included the Union’s Organising Officer, Porandatt Narine, and Executive Committee member, Gordon Thomas.
According to GAWU, yesterday, the main focus of the discussion were the structural changes of the sugar industry.
“The union, on this matter, expressed concern regarded what it termed the two pronged approach adopted by the Government of Guyana. The GAWU team explained that one prong concerned the divestment of three of the closed estates, namely Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates.
“The other aspect regarded the re-capitalization of the estates under the control of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).”
With respect to the divestment approach, GAWU expressed concern that the process appeared to lack transparency.
“We pointed out that the divestment would possibly be the largest in the nation’s history yet the Guyanese people were none the wiser about the value of the assets being put up for sale.
“Moreover, we reminded the IMF that its 2017 Article IV report on Guyana had urged the Government to ensure that displaced sugar workers be protected by appropriate safety nets.”
The union said it pointed out that this suggestion was not considered as apart from the statutory severance payments to workers, which “we reminded were illegally withheld and corrected following the intervention of the Courts… there is hardly, if any, tangible expression of the state’s assistance to the workers and communities affected.
“We pointed out that since the estate closures, many affected remain hard pressed and find themselves in difficult and miserable situations. We shared that, in some instances, children’s schooling has been truncated and families have disintegrated.
“Moreover, the opportunities for employment remain almost non-existent.”
The three closed estates- Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore- are on the market now with a deal near. It involves the consortium of Indian, Ghanaian and local businesses.
The government has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to oversee the divestment and privatization process of the estates.
Recently, PwC said that the process to value the estates and determine what exactly belonged to GuySuCo was a challenging one.
GuySuCo in the last decade has been facing falling production and mounting debts.
Its estates are badly in need of upgrading with agriculture suffering and workers migrating to greener pastures.
With regards to GuySuCo’s plans to recapitalize the operable estates– Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt–GAWU reiterated its concerns about the apparent absence of a plan to guide the large sum secured.
It will be recalled that last year, the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) secured a bond financing of up to $30B (US$150M) using a number of banks and insurance companies.
However, GuySuCo and NICIL have been clashing over what the former said is a sloth in the release of the money which is supposed to be largely plugged into capital and long-term projects.
“We shared that, on several occasions, we asked GuySuCo about its plan only to receive deafening silence. GAWU said that it recognized President David Granger just last week referring to a plan.
“We noted that the President had said, according to media reports we saw, that the Corporation was not operating by guesswork or hunches. Nevertheless, we shared our apprehensions that despite what, we believe, are our good intentioned best efforts we remain shut out from being knowledgeable about the Corporation’s plans.”
According to GAWU, during the engagement, the team also sought views about the happenings in other areas of the agricultural sector.
“On that score, we expressed views regarding the rice, poultry and fishing industry. Of course, the oil and gas industry also attracted attention during our discussion as well.
“On that matter, the GAWU shared its view that it appeared we were least prepared at this time to effectively deal with the industry and what it could bring to the proverbial table.
“We also shared the view about the possibility of inequality between the oil and non-oil sectors of the economy and its ramifications for wider societal issues.”
The IMF team, the union said, committed to examining the suggestions in finer detail.
“The GAWU, for many years now, has been interacting with the IMF during its annual country visits. We have found those interactions as worthwhile and provide us yet another opportunity to represent our members and the workers of Guyana generally.”
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