Reeling from a barrage of criticisms by the government and ruling Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), the two parliamentary parties have denied calling for closure of the sugar industry.
The issue emerged earlier this week when A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU), Tony Vieria recommended the significant scaling back of sugar production and turning to aquaculture and ethanol production. Vieria had said that he agreed that with Economics Professor Clive Thomas that sugar was almost dead and government should eventually exit production of the sweetener. Vieria had also recommended that Guyana import cheaper sugar from Mexico for domestic consumption while at the same time producing enough for export to the still lucrative European market.
Vieria’s pronouncement almost immediately pushed the PPP, its affiliated Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the government into an over drive of condemnations on grounds that the opposition was bent on creating massive job losses. The PPP has long regarded the sugar belt as one of its political strongholds.
But in separate statements, APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) said they did not advocate closure of the industry but instead called for the replacement of politico types from the board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuco) with experts.
“To make it clear, the AFC’s call for transformation would ensure the survival and sustainability of the industry based on complete sacking and replacement of the Board of Directors with competent persons, a Commission of Inquiry into the Skeldon Factory where $44 billion of taxpayers money went into modernising this ‘white elephant’, diversification to include ethanol production and alcohol products and involve the Union in the management of the Corporation,” said the party which holds seven seats in the House.
Emphasising that the AFC “never promoted a position to close the sugar industry,” that party accused government of siphoning off billions of dollars from the European Union that could have been spent on to turn the industry around rather than prop up the economy “while it allowed sugar to slide into further failures.”
The AFC stressed that new management should focus on retooling the industry to increase production and diversify and integrate into other areas such as ethanol production.
For its part, the APNU issued a release captioned “APNU has no policy or intention to close the Guysuco or any part of the local sugar industry” but did not elaborate in the body of the statement.
APNU castigated government for pursuing a number of unsuccessful or marginally successful initiatives in the sugar industry, none of which has improved the productive or financial fortunes of the industry.
They include award of the Skeldon Sugar factory to a Chinese contractor when an Indian or Brazilian contractor (sugar producing countries) could have done a better job at a much lower price; the failure of the PPP Administration to protect sugar workers’ interests through contractual arrangements regarding warranties and payment terms; the questionable arrangements surrounding this deal; other opaque deals including the Enmore packaging plant and supply of pumps involving Surendra Engineering, the Indian Company.
“The placing of political appointees to top positions and the loss of its once competent engineers and middle management have put GuySuco on life support,” said APNU.
Government hopes that Guysuco would produce 216,000 tons of sugar this year, having raked in a meagre 187,000 tons in 2013- the lowest in 20 years.
The corporation owes its creditors , including suppliers and banks, more than GUY$10 billion. At the same time, its annual wage and salary bill is more than 60 percent of revenue.