Jagdeo, political analyst differ on impact of sugar industry downsizing on PPP support base

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 August 2017, 15:43 by Denis Chabrol

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo addressing a Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union meeting at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday feared that closure of key operations of the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) might be aimed at eroding the People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) support base,  but at least one political analyst believed they would remain Guyana in anticipation of expected oil wealth.

“As somebody said, the motive is to decimate the sugar industry. They believe that, maybe if they kill the sugar workers’ jobs that more people would migrate and they have this false view that they can change the demographics of the country. This is what I believe motivates them when you listen to speeches,” he said.

He accused government of being “guided by malice” against workers in the sugar industry.

The 2012 national census shows that the East Indian-Guyanese population has declined from 326,277 or 43.4 percent to 297,493 or 39.8 percent—a dip by 8,784 or 3.6 percent.

Afro-Guyanese are 218,483 persons or 29.2 percent of the total population in 2012. marking a decline by 8,579 from 227,062 in 2002, when that segment of the population had accounted for 30.2 percent of the total population.

While the number of East Indian and African Guyanese have declined by a total of 37,363, the mixed and Amerindian segments grew by a total of 32,622. Mixed persons now number 148,532 or 19.9 percent of the total population, reflecting an increase by 22,805 or 3.2 percent over the 2002 figure of 125,727 persons.

Addressing a Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) public meeting at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara Wednesday night, he recalled telling President David Granger that 10,000 sugar industry jobs could be saved and a salary increase awarded by writing off the corporation’s debts amounting to GYD$80 billion.

However, Political Analyst Dr. Henry Jeffrey disagreed that the scaling back of the sugar industry would result in traditional East Indian PPP supporters leaving Guyana in large numbers. Instead, he reasoned that many of them would remain in Guyana and perhaps overseas-based Guyanese would return because the country would be wealthier because of oil wealth.

“Guyana is at this point about to receive a windfall from the oil-find and PPP supporters wouldn’t necessarily migrate to United States. They can visualise a better future in Guyana, a Guyana that is rich. Even those abroad might be encouraged to return,” he said. “Guyana is about to become a relatively wealthy country, what’s the point of picking up and going to the States, particularly since the government would have to show it can and indeed provide employment for its citizens,” said Jeffrey a former senior official of the People’s National Congress (PNCR) who years later went on to become a minister in the PPP-Civic-led government.

Political Analyst, Dr. Henry Jeffrey.

Jeffrey said the PPP would be better off educating its supporters about ways of cashing in on the oil wealth. “It’s part of their (PPP) job, too, to say to people that this is a time to stay,” he said.

He said the Guyana government has a duty to generate jobs for all Guyanese, not just Afro-Guyanese. Noting that East Indians are usually thrifty, Jeffrey expected them to take advantage of the many opportunities to benefit personally from the oil wealth  and the education of their children.

The former University of Guyana lecturer argued that Guyanese would prefer to stay at home instead of migrating to be employed in supermarkets and stores.

Jagdeo, however, painted a bleak picture, saying less than 1,000 jobs would be generated offshore by the oil sector compared to a loss of 10,000 jobs in the sugar industry.

Further, he predicted that the incumbent David Granger-led administration was laying the groundwork to misuse the oil revenues by shying away from using the Norwegian model of the Sovereign Wealth Fund.  He cautioned government against making projections of US$380 million annually because oil prices are very volatile. “They are talking up the future without pointing out to people the risk of a very volatile oil market that you may get large sums of oil money or you may get nothing for a long while,” he said.

The United States (US) is on record as acknowledging that very few direct jobs would be created by the oil and gas sector, but there is immense potential for job creation through massive infrastructural and social sector projects.

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan has expressed worry that Guyana does not have the human resource capacity for expected massive infrastructural projects that will be financed by oil revenues.