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PPP ready to fund legal challenge to sugar workers severance pay

PPP back-bencher, Attorney-at-Law, Adrian Annamayah and Oppostion Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Friday said the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would be funding legal fees for sugar workers to challenge the legality of government paying part of severance.

“The PPP will pay the legal fees for all of the sugar workers that want to challenge it in the court,” he told a news conference more than two hours before the National Assembly was due to debate a GY$1.75 billion supplementary estimate for paying about 4,000 sugar workers who have been laid off from the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) as part of a restructuring plan for that ailing entity.

Jagdeo said the court action would be filed after the final instalment is paid because the PPP did not want such a move to be used as an excuse for government to “deprive” the sugar workers to pay the first instalment.

If the court rules in favour of the workers against Guysuco, he says the Special Purpose Unit of the National Industrial Commercial and Investments Limited will have to sell the corporation’s assets to pay the severance.

Jagdeo insisted that government has sufficient money to pay all of the GY$4 billion in severance instead of GY$2 billion this month-end and GY$2 billion later this year. Among the possible sources of funds, he said, could be the US$18 million signing bonus from ExxonMobil that is “sitting outside of the consolidated fund” in a special account at the Bank of Guyana.  Government said that money has been set aside to finance legal fees if the United Nations sends the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also know as the World Court

“You don’t need to keep it there because we not even sure we will be referred to the ICJ,” he said. In case the matter is sent to the ICJ, Jagdeo said the treasury has sufficient funds on its own or it could borrow. He assured that the PPP would unequivocally support government in seeking even GY$100 million to legal fees.

A former Finance Minister, Jagdeo said GY$30 billion could be cut without harming production or welfare.

With regards to the number of reasons that government has given for being unable to pay all of the GY$4 billion in severance at once, he said “on every single ground, they are acting illegally, they are fudging the numbers”.

He said the 2018 National Budget shows that borrowing has increased by 235 percent and the Guyana Revenue Authority has collected GY$56 billion in taxes last year more than in 2013.