In the wake of reports that a Chinese-owned Sugar Company of Jamaica may be interested in buying out the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation, the major sugar workers union on Sunday said it would reluctantly give a listening ear to any proposals.
President Donald Ramotar, for his part, was in no hurry for privatisation but he has not ruled out private interests taking over any part of the sugar industry whose production has been steadily declining in recent years.
“We haven’t reached that stage that you’re talking about and hopefully we won’t reach there. I am not closing my mind to anything. The most important thing is saving the industry and getting it back to make a big contribution to the development of the country,” the Guyanese leader told a news conference at the weekend.
President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand said his union still believed that the corporation should remain in government’s hands. At the same time, he said any such move should be discussed with the stakeholders. “That’s something we need to discuss because we always took the position that sugar remain a nationalised entity and it should be run in a proper way so that it can be sustainable.
“It’s too important but these are matters that we ought to discuss if there is to be selling out or partly selling out,” said Chand who is a long-serving member of the governing Peoples Progressive Party’s (PPP) Executive Committee and a Member of Parliament for that party.
Pressed on whether GAWU would rethink its historical position, Chand said his union would still find privatisation difficult to accept. “If the circumstances are of such that we need to rethink this matter, it needs to be properly discussed with the stakeholders,” he said.
Chand was unaware that top officials of the Sugar Company of Jamaica Limited, a subsidiary of the China-owned Complant International Sugar Industry Co. Ltd, were here to explore investing in the sugar industry and other business opportunities.
Recalling that GAWU and the PPP had given “critical support” to then Peoples National Congress (PNC)-led administration in 1976 for the privatisation of the sugar company, Chand said his union has always maintained that sugar industry jobs should be for Guyanese.
The privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper on Sunday reported that former Jamaican Minister Christopher Tufton and an official of the Jamaican sugar entity were recently told by unnamed members of Guyana’s Private Sector Commission (PSC) that the chances of GuySuco being sold were virtually non-existent because of historical political linkages.
The governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has historically drawn a huge chunk of its political support from the sugar industry. However, in recent years there has been a decline in the number of sugar workers because many have moved into more lucrative jobs here and in the Caribbean, younger generations are now professionals and there has been increasing mechanisation.
GuySuco’s Director of Industrial Relations, Jairam Pitam on Sunday said neither a Jamaican nor Chinese company has approached the local sugar corporation for a buy-out. “If there was any talk with respect to any Chinese or Jamaican on any buy-out I would have known,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).
President Ramotar said that while GuySuco’s privatisation was not on government’s immediate agenda, steps were being taken to provide more lands to “very good” private cane farmers. “We hope to probably increase that amount of land in the Uitvlugt area because there is a tremendous shortage of labour-turnout there because labour turn-out there is very, very low,” he said.
Other strategies, he said, include the implementation of a strategic plan and hiring technical personnel for the Skeldon estate and factory.
Citing rainy weather, industrial unrest and technical difficulties, GuySuco recorded its lowest every sugar production in 22 years-186,807 tonnes. GAWU has added poor field husbandry as another reason for the falling production.
At the same time GAWU has been demanding higher wages and salaries that now stand at more than 60 percent of revenue for a company that has racked up huge debts to local and foreign banks.
Guyana has a 190,000 ton sugar quota to Europe.