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Govt says dedicated team working to reopen sugar estates: rejects Mr. Granger’s “fake news” comment

In rejecting claims that the new government does not have any serious intention of reopening closed sugar estates, Agriculture Minister Mr. Zulficar Mustapha has asked Guyanese to be patient and confident in the new administration’s plan to deliver on that promise.

Mr. Mustapha was responding to comments made by former President Mr. David Granger, who said in an interview over the weekend that the new government’s plans and commitments to reopen the sugar estates is “fake news.”

But Mr. Mustapha said this is not the case, as a dedicated team is working around the clock to ensure that all is in place for a smooth reopening. He said, “We and the workers are well aware that this will not happen at the click of a finger, but it will take time.”

Mr. Granger during his presidency, closed Wales, Enmore-East Demerara, Rose Hall-Canje and Skeldon Estates and laid off more than 5,200 workers.

The Minister said these shuttered factories suffered damages that “will take dedication and determination to repair.” The team is also expected shortly to meet with executives from various farmers’ groups, the Guyana Agriculture Workers’ Union (GAWU) and other stakeholders.

According to Mr. Mustapha, the government through his ministry, intends to pursue areas of diversification that would bring back the jobs lost, expand employment opportunities, and re-create wealth in these communities, reaffirming that agriculture will continue to be a main contributor to Guyana’s economy.

“Our President (Dr. Irfaan Ali) stated publicly that we will work to bring back economic life to the businesses, specifically, and the community of Wales. Also, the Ministry of Agriculture has set up a team to examine areas of support to families through targeted interventions during the transitional phase,” the minister added.

Mr. Mustpaha reminded that under the previous government, the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) was preparing to sell off these estates to the best bidder. “My Ministry will ensure that all of these processes are stopped immediately so that the lands can be used for the benefits of the people of this country. Also, we will work with NICIL (National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited).”

Government, he said, also plans to appoint, shortly, a new Board of Directors to oversee the cash-strapped Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). It is also working to reshuffle the management of the corporation, which is part of the comprehensive plan of action to restore productivity to the sugar industry.

GuySuCo needs GYD$1.6 billion for the remainder of 2020. This includes money for wages and salaries for the remainder of this month. Under the previous administration during the electoral impasse, a request was made to NICIL for an amount of GYD$1 billion, but only GYD$550 million was approved.

He said at least GYD$1 billion is required to cover operational expenses until the corporation begins receiving earnings in the second week of September.
Since 2015, the former coalition government had insisted that seven sugar estates were proving a major problem for the national treasury.

(S. Sukhnandan)