Jan 25, 2020 Letters
The GAWU has considered the letter of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, which was published in the January 24, Stabroek News and Guyana Chronicle. It is the first time that the Prime Minister has taken time from his ‘schedule’ to offer a response to our Union. Usually, such responses would come through one of his cohorts. It seems that on this occasion, one of Mr. Nagamootoo’s nerves must have been touched and this prompted him to sign a response himself. Indeed, what the GAWU says must have been important to him.
The Prime Minister contends, wrongfully too, that as a candidate of the PPP/C my judgment may be clouded. My candidacy has nothing to do about calling a spade a spade. I should add that I am not the first, and I doubt not the last, trade unionist to enter the political world.
Two of my colleague trade unionists are on the list, which also contains Mr. Nagamootoo’s name. I do not believe their trade union interests are clouded. He too would know well that the political arena allows unionists to advocate even more strongly on the workers behalf. Many politicians have their roots in the trade union movement, including the Prime Minister’s mentor, and our Union’s former Honorary President, Dr Cheddi Jagan.
Moreover, our letters are signed by the General Secretary of GAWU, as they reflect the position of the Union and no one else. I should add that those letters and/or statements benefit from the input of the GAWU’s leadership and are signed by myself as the authorised official.
While Mr. Nagamootoo may dislike or not agree with what is said, that is his problem. We will not be daunted from speaking up and speaking out on matters, which affect the Union’s membership and workers generally.
Mr. Nagamootoo says, “[c]ontext is important”. Is it that he is saying that he didn’t utter that the closed estates were useless? Or is it, he didn’t say before that NICIL-SPU was actively looking to engage investors to acquire the estates with a view to create jobs? Which context is the Prime Minister speaking about; he cannot blow hot and cold.
The PM next says he spoke to his villagers. But the January 22, Stabroek News said, “…the crowd was bussed from Eversham Village, Auchlyne Village, Skeldon and New Amsterdam…” Who were these villagers that he was speaking to, or was it just his family members as he shared in his letter?
The Prime Minister says that by “…2013, sugar production had fallen to 200,000 tonnes”. However, Mr. Nagamootoo didn’t say by 2014 sugar production improved to over 216,000 tonnes and by 2015 production surpassed 231,000 tonnes.
We recall, the Government in a statement issued on December 18, 2015 expressing delight that 2015 sugar target was surpassed. The PM, in that statement, is quoted to say that he is “…pleased that they [the workers] have all worked diligently and as hard as they usually do and to help realise the target.”
We recollect too, in a November 28, 2015 statement, the Administration said, “GuySuCo will recover! This year will mark a turning point in the performance of the industry!”
Mr. Nagamootoo points to the reforms in the EU market, which posed difficulties for the sugar industry. But the industry was undergoing transformation. Several ventures such as packaged sugar, electricity generation and bottled molasses were being pursued to produce income inelastic products and diversify the industry’s product base in an effort to strengthen it after the EU reforms. Moreover, as the PM would well know, Guyana has a comparative advantage relative to many Caribbean sugar producers. We have flat, arable land, access to fresh water, a knowledgeable and capable workforce, among other things.
The PM speaks about the National Development Strategy (NDS), which underlined the state of the industry’s factories. Of course, such a finding was not unsurprising considering that the industry’s excess cash flow, which would have allowed for adequate and suitable investment in the fields and factories, were channeled to the Treasury in the form of the Sugar Levy.
Mr Nagamootoo, who likes to speak about his long association with sugar and its workers, would recall the GAWU’s struggles on the levy. In fact, in the absence of the levy, the diversification which is so necessary now, could have been pursued decades ago. GuySuCo Annual Reports in the 1980’s have revealed that the industry has studied, as far back as then, diversification into electricity production and ethanol. The issue was always the wherewithal to realize those goals.
We are also told about GuySuCo’s cost-of-production vis-à-vis selling price. While production costs were high, the PM may be aware that they were plans to address this issue. For instance, mechanization of certain tasks provides significant scope to reduce costs.
Mr Nagamootoo should consult the Sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which pointed to the benefits of such initiatives. Disappointingly, the Coalition, when it took office, refused an already approved CDB loan to further mechanization, though this was recommended by the CoI.
Of course, as we all know, the Commission also recommended that no estate be closed and we saw what happened there. So there were considered and rational attempts to address costs and revenues all of which benefitted from several studies to determine their viability.
Mr Nagamootoo criticizes the Skeldon investment. But, as we said before, it represented the first step in modernizing the industry in the post-independent and post-nationalisation period. It was a project that was not only supported by the Government of the day, but the international financial institutions.
While there have been difficulties, in spite of those the factory’s electricity plant raked in $9B in 2016 when Government support to the entire industry was $11B. If Mr Nagamootoo’s government had endorsed the CoI’s recommendation to return the electricity plant to GuySuCo, imagine the difference it would have made to the bottom-line.
The PM spoke about the EU funds. Of course, as we pointed out before, monies from that programme were spent to upgrade the Enmore factory and to construct the packaging plant, which today lies idle. Monies were also used to convert cane fields for mechanized operations while large areas benefitted from tillage and planting.
Of course, those investments now lie useless as Mr Nagamootoo had an active role in shutting down what he deems “useless” estates. On this score, could the PM tell us about the approximate $5.5B his Government received in 2016 from the EU for the sugar industry.
The Prime Minister reminds us about his infamous “light a candle for sugar workers” call in 2010. Does he also remember saying too “Zero is an insult, not an option”? But during his stint, so far, as PM, the sugar workers have been insulted time after time with zero. Yet Mr Nagamootoo says “[s]ugar workers are dear to me.” If this is how he treats those dear to him, we don’t want to see how he treats those he despises.
We are also told about the monies the Government put into the industry. But what did it get for that investment – four (4) closed estates and 7,000 workers on the breadline. Also production fell from over 231,000 tonnes in 2015 to some 91,000 tonnes last year.
In that period too, workers’ wages were frozen and their benefits disregarded, while they were treated with disrespect. So preach all you may about the support, how effective was it when the workers and their families suffered.
Mr PM also spoke about the severance pay the displaced workers received after a court battle we must add. The point is that the workers were entitled to those payments, it was not gratuitous or a gift, as one Minister said he thought the Exxon signing bonus was.
Mr Nagamootoo says when his Government returns to office it “…will continue to support the sugar industry…” But, before it took office, his colleague, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan told sugar workers, in March, 2015, that “…we will not in any way close the sugar industry…”
The PM in a statement of November 28, 2015, is quoted as having said “[t]here should be no discussion or debate regarding the importance of the sugar industry to Guyana’s economy… in fact we have said this on a number of occasions, that this Government sees sugar as too big to fail.” He went on to say too “[t]he industry and workers remain important to us, and we are working to ensure that we have a modern industry”.
Of course, a few days after that, the announcement was made that Wales was to be closed at the end of 2016.
But talking about support, we urge the PM to use his voice to have the proceeds secured through the sugar bond released to the industry. President David Granger had promised to address this issue since June, last year. Maybe the next time Mr Nagamootoo and Mr Granger meet, he could remind the President of his commitment.
We hasten to remind the Prime Minister that the industry needs the help. It said in a statement factory performance will remain unchanged unless there are the required investments. As far as we know this is the intent of the bond.
Remember too Mr PM, the President said in June, he wanted the industry not only to survive but to thrive. Such hopes have to be connected to timely and adequate investments and we have learnt that in front of the Government currently is a plan from the Corporation to realize such feats.
The PM also says “[s]ugar workers will be given plots of land on the estates…”. Mr Nagamootoo is quoted in January 27, 2018, Guyana Chronicle as saying “…sugar workers will be able to have at least one acre of land if you want to plant…” So now nearly two years have gone by and the talk about land remains just talk and idle talk if you ask us.
Mr Nagamootoo says persons are scared that he is on the campaign trail. We do not believe that is the case, but that is not our concern either. The PM is free to be on any trail he wishes, be it the campaign trail; the Linden-Lethem trail, something his Government promised to make into a road; or the trail into the sunset where ostensibly he has a golden parachute unlike the thousands he has put into misery.
The PM speaks about appellation, but it seems his apparitions are coming back to haunt him. We also do hope that the Prime Minister will use his influence at the Guyana Chronicle, to ensure that our response receives similar prominence as his.
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