Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Raphael Trotman on Monday said government was aware that GY$500 million would be insufficient to pay severance to the 4,000 laid off sugar industry, but the reality is that it could only have budgeted in 2018 what it could afford due to, among other reasons, prisons security.
“It was not that we (cabinet) were unaware that severance had to be paid. We were quite aware. The five hundred million was indicative of that recognition, that realisation.
We knew that five hundred million would not be the full amount that would be needed but we sought to keep some money in reserve- put in the 2018 budget- and we needed to get a sense at the end of the year of what was needed,” Trotman told a news conference.
He explained that government last year had to divert billions of dollars to deal with the fall-out from deadly and destructive prison unrest at Camp Street and Lusignan as well as rehabilitating the Mazaruni Prison.
President David Granger has already announced that GY$2 billion severance pay to the redundant Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) workers would be disbursed this month-end and another GY$2 billion during the second quarter of 2018. The Guyanese leader has also hinted that some ministerial budgets might have to be cut to help pay severance.
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said in his view, the workers too might appreciate receiving the payment in parts thus reducing the possibility of them spending out their money all at once and then having to suffer later down the line.
“I would personally like to pay people their severance the day after. But it’s a sizable sum of money and we do have other areas in the economy that we have to address. The government is doing its best and I think even sugar workers would appreciate getting it in parts,” he said.
He recalled that the problem dates back well into the time of the People Progressive Party (PPP). “This government was shocked when we came into power and realized the extent of the bailout. In the first year, we had to find $12B. I think the government is being responsible; half now, half later on in the year.”
Holder said the government had put a number of things in place to stop the hemorrhaging of the sugar industry. “Forty eight billion dollars have been expended in just bailing out the industry with no actual returns. We said this must come to an end.We can’t just take out funds from the system, throw it into a bottomless hole with no returns and expect to better the rest of the population.”
Trotman offered that a number of unexpected imperatives came up during 2017 for which billions of dollars had to be diverted to, such as disaster at the prisons.
“We are very concerned about the workers and in Cabinet we have made some very strong recommendations.”
To find severance money was high on the AFC’s agenda last year and AFC continues to push for workers to be treated fairly, humanely and according to contract, Trotman said.
He observed that the sugar company had been run down for many years and that it is that company that should be paying the severance and not the government. “Government now has to take very scarce resources and add to Guysuco’s coffers; to take up a debt that is really GuySuCo’s. Many would wish to lay this spill at the feet of the government but this issue with GuySuCo didn’t start yesterday or in 2015. We are grappling with the end result of bad management.”
The Agriculture Minister recalled that when the PPP assumed power in 1992, there were nine estates and 28,000 workers but the number of workers dwindled to 16,000 in 2015 when the APNU+AFC coalition came to power as a result of the closure of the Diamond and LBI estates. “A lot of people they had put on the breadline and didn’t cater much for them.” he said.