‘It’s very discriminatory’

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—Economists says $250,000 cash grant to severed sugar workers could be legally challenged

–accuse government of discrimination in public spending

By Svetlana Marshall

Economist, Dr. Clive Thomas

Warning that there could be legal implications should the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government proceed with its plan to dole out close to $2B to severed sugar workers, Winston Jordan – an Economist – said the plan is also discriminatory – a proposition also supported by Economist, Dr. Clive Thomas.

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It was Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, who announced last week in Region Six that sugar workers who were severed under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Administration will receive $250,000 each from the PPP/C Government come 2022 regardless of their employment status.

Jagdeo estimates that approximately 7,000 sugar workers lost their jobs when the APNU+AFC Government closed the Wales, Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates but a study facilitated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that only 5,160 workers were laid off by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). Contending further that the severed sugar workers were unjustly treated, Jagdeo said the cash grant, which will be distributed by the end of January 2022, will amount to approximately $1.8B.

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), in welcoming the announcement, said the financial grant “seeks to correct the injustice and indignation the workers and their families confronted following the callous minimization of the Sugar Industry.”

But Jordan and Dr. Thomas said the financial grant targeting only severed sugar workers is discriminatory and will sow seeds of discord among Guyanese. Jordan, who served as Minister of Finance under the APNU+AFC Government (2015-2020), said contrary to some reports, the sugar workers, who lost their jobs when the four estates were closed, were paid their severance in full together with all benefits due to them. “It is well known that the sugar workers not only received their severance in full but they were also paid every benefit that was owed to them,” Jordan said while appearing alongside Members of Parliament Sherod Duncan and Juretha Fernandes on “In the Ring” – a popular online programme hosted by MP Duncan.

Notably, the Study of the socio-economic impact of the closure of GuySuCo sugar estates on sugar workers in Guyana, which was commissioned by ILO, confirmed that the sugar workers received their severance. According to the study, the average severance paid to a worker across the four estates was $838,117. “The averages for Wales, East Demerara, Skeldon and Rose Hall were G$613,800, $1,227,642, $509,666 AND $1,001,600 respectively. Notably, East Demerara and Rose Hall were significantly above the industry mean and almost double the amount of the other two estates,” a section of the report read.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo

According to the study, approximately 27 per cent of redundant workers received severance that exceeded one million dollars while 32 per cent received more than half a million dollars but less than a million dollars. Additionally, 24 per cent of them received between one dollar and half a million dollars. Notably at the time of study, 17 % of the sugar workers were awaiting their severance. The report on the study was released in mid-2021, however, the actual study was done prior.

Jordan said to offer the severed workers a grant of $250,000 each on the basis that they were laid off under the APNU+AFC, when they would have already received their severance and all other benefits, has “criminal implications.”

Given the circumstances, the grant maybe considered an “ex gratia payment,” however, the Government would be required to lay a bill in the National Assembly for its approval, if found to be legal. But regardless, he said the proposed plan by the Irfaan Ali Administration has the possibility of opening a can of worms.

“It now recreates expectation by all those who had been severed in the past,” Jordan said while noting that all workers severed by the Government in the past can legitimately claim the $250,000 grant, if the programme is allowed to continue. And this he posited would not be limited to those fired under the coalition but also those whose services were terminated since the PPP/C Government took office. “All the public servants who have been severed since August 2020, will now put up their hands for their $250,000, that is, if it is found to be legal,” he posited.

The former finance minister submitted that instead of the sugar workers, the people of Kwakwani should have been given such a grant, particularly those who were severed by the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (RUSAL), and were barely paid their severance.

Dr. Thomas said the proposed plan by the PPP/C Government is discriminatory. “It is very discriminatory and it undermines the effectiveness of the cash transfers,” Dr. Thomas told Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds during his appearance on Politics 101.

Dr. Thomas has long championed the need for Guyanese households to receive a cash transfer of US$5,000 per year from revenues secured from the Oil and Gas Industry, however, during his appearance on Politics 101, he said the financial grant in question targets a selective group and is not based on equity or need.

“It defeats the whole purpose of what cash grants were supposed to do. It reduces them to payouts to win loyalty,” Dr. Thomas said while contending that it is extremely counter-productive.

“It breeds chaos, and going down the line, it will never be accepted in Guyana. It will always be a source of contention,” he warned, while adding that instead of doing good, the $250,000 cash grant will promote disharmony among Guyanese.

Dr. Thomas also expressed both disappointment and concern that PPP/C Government is utilizing tax payers’ dollars and other financial resources to aid a failing industry.



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