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Govt leaders failing to talk with sugar workers to counteract PPP; time for emergency national sugar conversation- Hinds

Professor David Hinds (at lectern), Mrs. Hazel Woolford of the Guyana Institute of Historical Research (2nd from left) and Historian, Tota Mangar.

Politician and academic, Professor David Hinds on Saturday called on top government leaders to fan out across the sugar belt to talk with sugar workers about the future of the industry because both sides have valuable arguments.

Hinds criticised government leaders for failing to mount outreaches among ordinary sugar workers to discuss with them the realities of the sugar industry and the need to cut losses in order to spend more on social sectors like health, education and infrastructural development.

“We can’t have the PPP (People’s Progressive Party) in the communities rankling the anxieties and the insecurities and the other side is absent from the conversation. Where are the government leaders in the sugar belt, under the bottom-houses, in the estates talking to the workers? Where are they? It is easy to criticise (Opposition Leader) Mr. Jagdeo and the PPP for spreading doom but what is the government doing to counteract that message of doom?.” said Hinds, an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), one of the governing coalition parties.

 

Hinds said ideally, it would have been good to have President David Granger and Jagdeo to go to the sugar workers and speak with them with one voice. He said ordinary working people’s ability to reason, sometimes beyond their own political persuasions, about what is good or bad. “Sugar workers have to be convinced that they have to give something, but the rulers also have to be convinced that they have to give something and you can’t work that out behind the backs of the people. You have to work that out with the people- sugar, labour and politics. It can’t be sugar and politics,” said the United States-based Political Science Professor.

Professor David Hinds (at lectern) addressing the 10th annual conference of the Guyana Institute of Historical Research at the National Library, Church and Main Streets.

The time has come, he said, for intellectuals to participate in a national conversation on sugar with sugar workers initially and the rest of Guyanese. “We, as scholars and activists and researchers, must join the conversation, not confine ourselves to our little cliques and engage in ‘feel good’ but we must again become critically involved in the discourse,” he said.

He  called for mutual respect and the treatment of the sugar industry as a “national emergency” because the political and racial reality is that 16,000 mainly male East Indian breadwinners have to face up to the fact that a mainly African dominated government would be presiding over Guysuco’s restructuring. “An African government overseeing the reorganisation of an industry that is grounded in Indian Guyanese is a recipe for anxiety. Afro-Guyanese are also affected because the conversation for them is that when the public service or when bauxite was going under there was not as much fuss, why the fuss over sugar,” he said.

 

Addressing the opening of the 10th annual conference of the Guyana Institute of Historical Research, Hinds reasoned that the politicisation of the sugar industry has led to the country’s failure to seriously address the changing  global fortunes of the industry.

“We in Guyana are left behind only because sugar became trapped in our ethnic and political quarrels. Fifty years after independence we are now faced with the stern challenge about what to do about sugar,” he said, adding that mere media appearances could not substitute for meeting in the “flesh”.

FLASH BACK: A section of the attendees at the meeting between government ministers and Wales Estate sugar workers months after the closure of the estate.

Producing figures to support his argument, he noted that sugar production has declined from 300,000 tonnes in the 1960s to 207,000 tonnes in 2015 and a contribution of 3.5 percent to Guyana Gross Domestic Product. He further noted that the global cost of sugar production at an average 16 US cents per pound while Guyana does so at between 35 to 45 US cents per pound and sells it at 25 US cents per pound. Hinds said Guyana was not only recording a loss but has been also subsidising sugar being sold to Europe: GYD$12 billion in 2015; GYD$9 billion in 2016 and a projected GYD$18 billion in 2017. Hinds pointed out that from a purely business perspective, the Guyana Sugar Corporation is unsustainable but on the other hand there are 16,000 mostly male workers and 300 service providers to the industry and it is still the third largest foreign exchange earner at 3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

Against that background, he said those who are in favour of retaining the industry at its current level and those who want to trim Guysuco’s operations down are both correct. “There are two sides of the sugar discourse. When one side talks about sugar being unprofitable, they are correct. When the other side talks about if you get rid of sugar, you would be hurting thousands of workers, they are correct,” he said. Hinds contended that the single biggest failure of independence is that Guyanese have been unable to combine their discourses for the broad benefit of the country.

FLASH BACK: Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo pledging his People’s Progressive Party Civic’s solidarity to the Wales Sugar Estate workers following government’s announcement that the estate and factory would be closed in October, 2016.

In apparent reference to the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), he said one party has used sugar as patronage and as a means of political competition. He recalled that the long struggle for the recognition of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) had been at the centre of discord.

The split in the trade union movement into the Guyana Trades Union Congress and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana, he said, was the politically motivated work of GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) in the 1970s.

The vocal and controversial political activist highlighted the importance of engaging in public discussion to inform public policy, understanding of society and decision-making. “All those who are affected by a decision must be part of that decision and those of us who hold ourselves up as leaders must at all times have discussions about the people’s business in the open place and the open space,” he said.

  • Second Coming

    I agree that the government needed a better messaging strategy on sugar for sugar workers, but I find it implausible that Granger and Jagdeo could ever team up to meet sugar workers.
    Jagdeo needs to keep sugar workers right where they are so he can score cheap political points for their votes. Teaming up with Granger would defeat that plan. Once Jagdeo gets the sugar votes, it’s back to business as usual: more massive corruption. More money for the greedy scumbags calling the shots.

    • Col123

      SUGAR is DEAD. The PNC already announced the funeral. Why would the government waste time with those “self destructive PPP voters ” as your boy Freddie referred to them?

  • Col123

    Dr Hinds must have found his voice trying to raise the dead. The usual racist anti PPP diatribes seem to be no longer effective as he in HINDsight is realizing his political future… much to his already damaging dispensation of “ethnic entrapment” to the PPP and the “self destructive PPP voters ” from his consort Freddie. Guyanese after 30 years of the PNC and 23 years of the PPP would hopefully know these quacks and saprophytic humans as they move into a another election season which is already tainted with elements of potential rigging. The political speeches are about to begin. We await the response from the “undesirables “

  • Col123

    fyi….Feddie’s reference was to all PPP voters, not only sugar workers!..
    It works both ways, with both parties’ voting bloc… and it’s an insane pendulum…you have just added another descriptor to it… so let’s pile it on!

  • Lancelot Brassington

    The government indeed needs to engage the grassroots in the sugar belt. they have not been doing this. Rajendra Bissessar, Nagamootoo and Ramjattan have a pivotal role in this regard. They are from the sugar belt and they understand the thought and action of the grassroots folks in the sugar belt. They know that substantial numbers of them live off of every word that comes out of the mouths of Jagdeo and the PPP, and that they are not interested in thinking for themselves. They should have crafted a strategy for breaking the back of this misguided reverence for Jagdeo and the PPP within the first year of taking office. And what about Granger? Does he not have an appreciation of the magnitude of the problem facing the coalition? The coalition had better come up with a game plan for giving some level of comfort to sugar workers and their dependents. This needs to be done as early as yesterday. And the government needs to state specifically what they will do to allow sugar workers in different regions to make a living and how soon this will be done. Broad statements won’t cut it. The people need specifics.

    Ramjattan and Nagamootoo must be seen to be in the forefront of this venture with other prominent coalition members in support. They may wish to consider leaving those suits, ties and luxury vehicles at home when they venture out. They should also expect the PPP to arrange for their meetings to be boycotted and for people to picket and abuse them. They will not sit by passively by while the coalition undertakes action that could reduce the level of hysteria in the sugar belt. The PPP is the greatest beneficiary of that hysteria and the gloomier things look for the sugar workers the happier Jagdeo and company will be.

    Come on coalition stop fiddling while Rome burns. Lets get the show on the road and get it right. The operation of the sugar industry as currently configured cannot be sustained but thousands of Guyanese cannot simply be put on the bread line without any hope. go out and tell them where the hope lies.

    • Col123

      I agree with you LB.. Thumbs up!…but you are trying too hard to see whether those coalies have any ballz!… … for Grangie, he will come up with an excuse for his senility!

  • Col123

    Andy..As if such rotten apples didn’t exist within thePNC for 28 years!… that’s a good joke about the PNC…unable to precount the votes from their ethnic base…Either you are saying 1- they can’t count…2- they don’t need to since they stuff the ballot boxes…. 3- they are really stupid… 4- their supporters don’t behave like what the US documents revealed about Granger ..

  • Col123

    CS…Loaded question… depends on how you define silver lining…

  • Charles Selman

    JD, Hinds cannot. He has no clue himself. He is looking for a position in the Gov’t.