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Gov’t, opposition in bitter battle over state of sugar industry

Last Updated on Thursday, 3 February 2022, 21:59 by Writer

The opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) on Wednesday castigated the government for heavy investment in the sugar industry whose projected production is 65,000 tonnes this year, but the governing People’s Progressive Party Civic administration cited last year’s devastating flood as the major reason.

APNU+AFC Juretha Fernandes highlighted that Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said the sugar-growing subsector had declined by 34.7 percent in 2021 taking production to 58,025 tonnes compared to 87,875 tonnes. “They came to this House and they say we did not know what we were doing. They came to this House and they say that they will reopen the sugar estates,” she said. Ms. Fernandes accused the government of knowing that sugar was failing and for three successive budgets has failed to increase output.

Also, APNU+AFC parliamentarian Vinceroy Jordan said the coalition exited government in 2020, leaving behind a plan to produce 147,000 tonnes of sugar annually but since then production has declined by 34.7 percent after spending almost GY$30 billion on the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation in 2020 and “still failed to reopen one estate”.  Mr. Jordan labelled the government’s plan to increase packaged sugar production from 34 percent in 2020 to 64 percent of total production as a pipe dream.

Public Works Minister Deodat Indar said that overall the agriculture sector, including the sugar industry, was “ravaged” down to 9.1 percent by a two-month long flood last year.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha earlier this week said the shuttered estates would be opened in phases, even as he was being heckled and asked “how much you open back”. He explained that another GY$6 billion would be invested in the sugar industry which would result in thousands of persons and communities benefitting. “When we invest another $6 billion we create more jobs; tens of thousands of jobs we create and we help tens of thousands of families and we put in the village economy more cash and thousands of people are benefitting; not only the sugar workers but people who live in the community and continue to benefit indirectly,” he said.

The then APNU+AFC had shut down the Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore Estates and retrenched more than 7,000 workers. Since returning to office in August 2020, at least 1,500 sugar workers have been reemployed as part of efforts to reopen the estates.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo recently told the state-owned National Communications Network that the sugar estates would be reopened to ensure they are going concerns for local and foreign investors.