Why closure?

first_imgIt is quite unfortunate that in spite of the mounting calls for the coalition Government to reconsider its decision to downscale the sugar industry via closure of sugar estates, the Administration seems unmoved and is bent on moving in a direction that will see thousands of workers and their families being severely affected.On May 8, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder presented Government’s ‘white paper’ on the future of the sugar industry to the National Assembly. He had announced that two sugar estates would be closed and the annual production of sugar would be reduced, among a number of other measures, as part of a new policy on the sugar industry.Cognisant of the huge impact these closures would have on their lives, scores of sugar workers have taken to the streets over the past few weeks to highlight their concerns on the matter, with the hope that the Government would stop to listen. However, so far, the powers that be have basically turned a deaf ear and are operating as if they are unconcerned. For example, the Wales workers’ contention is that they cannot be compelled to travel to the Uitvlugt Estate on the West Coast of Demerara – some 22 miles from Wales – hence they prefer a severance package. But the Administration seems to be sending a message that they (workers) do not have any other option.The latest organisation to add its voice against the closure of the estates was the Private Sector Commission (PSC). The PSC, which represents several Private Sector bodies in Guyana, has highlighted several valid reasons why the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) should be allowed to continue current operations and has even offered to work with the Administration to explore all possible options to avert closure of the estates.Certainly, the estates are a major source of sustenance and their closure will be felt deeply and far and wide. Workers and their families are rightly fearful that their communities would be destroyed, families broken up and there will be increased incidence of crime and other social problems. It should be mentioned that in December 2016, sugar operations ceased at the Wales Estate, leaving over 1000 workers jobless. Even though it might be too soon to measure the impact of the closure, analysts have predicted it would be severe. One can only imagine what will happen to workers and their families; and communities in general, if the Government moves ahead with other planned closures. It should be noted that the Government-initiated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) did not recommend closure of any estate, but, on the contrary, recommended divestment into private hands.It must be mentioned too that in spite of the many calls for the Administration to develop a plan of action to have the necessary impact assessments completed and to engage industry stakeholders, nothing concrete was done in this regard. We had stated on numerous occasions before, that no informed decision can be made on the sugar industry without proper and detailed impact assessments being carried out.Further, because of its level of importance, we suggest that the issue be brought for discussion and debate at the national level with the involvement of all stakeholders. After all, this is people’s livelihoods that would be affected and they and/or their representatives deserve to be fully engaged on what matters to them. The Government has not presented any justifiable reasons to convince the populace that closure is the most viable option.No one can deny the huge contribution sugar has made to the economy. It could be recalled that years ago, the earnings from the sugar industry helped to prop up other sectors when they were performing badly. Of note too is that the industry remains the largest employer other than Government and is the main foreign currency earner. It is, therefore, necessary that all stakeholders – the workers’ union, parliamentary Opposition, Private Sector bodies and other civil society organisations – continue to raise their voices against the closure of the estates.Citizens, especially sugar workers, must hold the Government accountable, as it had promised a good life for all Guyanese during the 2015 General and Regional Elections campaign. Closing sugar estates and placing workers on the breadline are certainly not a good example of wanting to create that promised ‘good life’.last_img read more