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The GAWU’s attention was drawn to comments by Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha in the September 28, 2020 edition of the Stabroek News. That newspaper quoted Minister Mustapha to say that the government was unable to sustain the industry on its own and the Administration was “…looking at the private sector to help…”. The question of private interests in the sugar industry has long attracted discussion and contentions more so given the wretched history of industry when it was controlled by the former sugar barons. Our Union was among the many supportive voices, at the time, which hailed the nationalization of the industry. We felt then, as we do now, that the industry served the interest of the nation in the hands of the State.
We also, at the same time, cannot be ignorant to the pressing realities which confront the industry. Our Union has lamented, in more recent times, the lack of managerial skill and the dearth of capital investment. We are convinced that the industry can rebound and play a more meaningful role but such initiatives we know would require some amount of capital. This we pointed out to the former Coalition Administration in the early days of 2017 when we presented our paper titled “Securing the sugar industry”. In that paper, the Union outlined several initiatives which could assure of the industry’s turnaround and success. Through that paper as well, we urged the then Government to consider partnerships with the private sector or other institutional investors to bring those initiatives to life. Unfortunately, the Coalition chose to ignore that and every suggestion we made then and we have seen the sorrowful state-of-affairs that unfolded.
The new Irfaan Ali Government, it appears, has decided to go the route we had previously suggested. While we welcome all initiatives to safeguard the sugar industry and make “…it is maintained and sustained” as Minister Mustapha said according to the Stabroek News, we also urge the Administration to give sincere and careful consideration to welfare and well-being of the thousands of the industry workers. President Ali has recently signalled his understanding of the hardship and misery that greeted workers and their families following the closure of estates. We are sure he wishes to remove that ignominious stain and to avoid a situation that will engender a repetition. It is against this background that the GAWU sees the need for the rights and conditions of workers being safeguarded as the industry moves into its next phase of development.
The GAWU remains a committed partner to the turnaround of the sugar industry. In-as-much as we seek to see the industry recover and take its rightful place in our economic scheme, we know too of its critical importance to workers and their communities. This we see too was recognised by the Agriculture Minister who, according to the Stabroek News, said “…people are looking forward to their communities being re-energized, to having new areas of employment and a number of other benefits.” It is from this point-of-view that we see that the Government while seeking to implement policies that brings about sustainable sugar industry it must strike a balance knowing of the critical socio-economic importance the industry brings to thousands of Guyanese and to scores of communities throughout Guyana.
General Secretary, GAWU