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Closing more sugar estates will trigger wide-scale protests, PPP warns

Left to right: PPP Executive Members Irfan Ali, Dharamkumar Seeraj and Roger Luncheon.

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on Monday warned of increased tension and unrest by sugar workers if they are sacked due to the closure of more sugar estates, even as that party demanded that a socio-economic impact study be done before government decides on the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuco) future.

“Unquestionably, this will cause a confrontation. If we use one current example- the parking meters- and  we use a feature of this Granger government, no consultation, you see where it leads,”  PPP Executive Committee member, Roger Luncheon told a news conference.

Since coming to power in May 2015, government has closed Wales Sugar Estate, and GuySuco has made arrangements to deploy some of the workers at Utitvulgt Estate, West Coast Demerara.

The Guyana government has said the national treasury could not afford to spend billions of dollars annually on a loss-making and highly indebted sugar industry whose annual production continues to plummet. However,  sugar industry advocates have argued that GuySuco plays key roles in employment, drainage and irrigation, health care and earning much needed foreign exchange.

The former Head of the Presidential Secretariat said it was too early to determine where the parking meter issue will end up, but he noted that “more and more mobilization of anti-parking meter sentiment.”

Luncheon feared that protests would erupt across the village-economy based sugar belt of Guyana because “this isn’t paying  money for parking; his is people’s livelihoods.” He said even if the PPP does not mobilize protest actions the workers would automatically rise up to fight for their survival.

“There is no doubt in or mind even if the People’s Progressive Party is not in the forefront of leading the protests against this arbitrary course that this government is undertaking, we can assume that the same sentiment that put the protesters on the streets of Georgetown will have protesters all over the sugar belt were this course of action to be continued,” he said.

The PPP’s Irfan Ali said politically the PPP will be demanding various options that are before us” but those options will be in the “interest of the workers, the industry and the country.”

He and Luncheon insisted that there must be a socio-economic study and economic feasibility study are completed before any decision is taken.  “We are making that call that no estate should be closed because the studies that should inform such decisions have not been completed,” said Ally.

Head of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj said the diversification of some Guysuco estates to produce paddy and milk have failed before those projects have started. He explained that paddy cultivation would require the  grading of several feet of topsoil of sugarcane beds to fill existing drains, and when that topsoil is removed all that will be left is pegasse that will be unsuitable for rice cultivation.

  • rs dasai

    There are two ways for me to become your economic equal. I can work very hard and acquire wealth or , since I have the POWER, I can/will do my best to bring you down to my level. With the first way, we both become economically stable, while with the second, we both become economically disable.

    • Col123

      Refreshing parable there rs.. you left out the lottery ..:)

    • Lancelot Brassington

      Since whoever you are talking about are so ‘equal’ , so ‘wealthy’ and at such a high ‘level’ then they surely don’t need the floundering sugar industry to get by.The brilliance that has enabled them to be so successful will undoubtedly continue to bring more success when the industry closes.

      • Col123

        LB…interesting take… you may want to parse”we both become economically disable ” a second more..

        • rs dasai

          Col & Lance
          We are all in it and have to do our best to overcome the problems which we face. Not one against the other, but together we strive. No load intended.

  • Emile_Mervin

    The PPP regime and it’s union, GAWU, had 23 years to fix sugar, yet sugar got worse, including the US$200m white elephant that Jagdeo promised to roll up his sleeves and fix. There were periodic strikes over prodution bonuses and pay hikes, but sugar was bleeding money while the PPP kept sugar on life support for sugar votes.

    Then the PPP lost power in May 2015 and the truth about the state of sugar became known as GuySuCo said the company will have to cease operations by June 1, 2015, if the new government did not provide emergency subvenyions. The new government did, but the company continued sinking and government felt obligated to help sugar workers by paying them to produce a product that was not bringing in monies equal to or greater than the subventions.

    Now that it’s unsustainable to keep pumping billions into sugar just to pay sugar workers with no equal or greater financial return from sugar sales, the PPP is talking about unrest if more sugar factories are closed. What is the PPPs alternative today that is different from what it had for 23 years? Issuing threats of unrest is not an alternative to save sugar!

  • Lancelot Brassington

    PPP and their stupid theatrics again. Demanding studies when it has been known for at least two decades that the sugar cane industry was doomed is nothing other than stalling and delaying action. There is no hope for sugar. The PPP knows this. If there were other avenues open then why did they not reverse the fortunes of the industry in twenty three years? They can incite employees in the sugar industry until they are blue in the face. The employees can respond to the incitement if they want to be ridiculous but sooner or later reality will have to kick in. And that reality is that sugar is dead.

  • Emile_Mervin

    It is about the PPP, hands down! Sugar is the PPPs pet industry, depending on sugar workers for votes, yet it had no real plan to save sugar.

    It shut down Diamond and LBI and there was no unrest, but now the industry is on life support, the PPP is suddenly taking about u rest if one more sugar factory closes? Who they think they scarin’?
    Where was the unrest when Jagdeo squandered US$200m on Skeldon?

    Where was the unrest when GAWU kept asking GuySuCo and the PPP regime to account for annual subventions for the EU?

  • Emile_Mervin

    Instead of US$200m for Skeldon, the PPP should have invested that in a diversification project away from sugar.

    I repeat: GuySuCo is primed with arable land to become the GUYANA GOOD CORPORATION, with production, processing packaging/canning, storage, and shipping facilities. Government can launch it ad a public-private venture after a carefully drawn out plan, and encourage Guyanese to buy shares. We are sitting on potential but we are allowing partisan politics to sink us.

  • Nailer59

    Well said rs dasai, we are all in it. the sugar industry has to be phased out gradually , govt must find a way to ease the burden that this will bring to many. the burden will be heaviest on one ethnic group . It is sad that some will harness their hardship to gain power. It is equally tragic that others (of other ethnicity) will not acknowledge their pain and encourage the Govt to really support them. We are all in it.