PPP/C doled out over $13B to GuySuCo, with nothing to show for it

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—Jagdeo now admits no timeline to reopen shuttered estates

Close to two years after taking office and after pumping billions into the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), government is still to fulfill its election campaign promise of reopening the shuttered sugar estates closed under the former administration.

In fact, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Monday admitted that the administration is nowhere close to even realising the dream, saying: “the government is looking at proposals to return the estates to viability.” He said part of the effort involves merging the estates with other communities. “The key idea was to ensure that we first of all create alternative employment for people in areas where we could not return to sugar, that APNU had closed the estates,” Jagdeo is quoted in the Department of Public Information as saying.

Last year $7B was channeled into the industry and already $6B has been allocated to the industry. GuySuCo has not been turning in a profit and recent floods have also crippled its operations in the operating estates.

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In its Mid-Year report, which was released in October this year the Irfaan Ali Government acknowledged that the sugar industry continues to decline.

In the financial report, the Ministry of Finance noted that the non-oil economy grew by 4.8 percent and will contract further by the end of the year to 3.7 percent.

“With regard to sector performance, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries for the first half of 2021 are estimated to have contracted by 2.4 percent compared with a decline of 4.1 percent for the corresponding period last year and it was noted that this was as a result of lower output from the other crops, sugar growing, forestry and fishing industries,” the report which is to be tabled in the National Assembly stated.

Turning to sugar, the report stated that at the end of the first half of the year, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) produced 29,650 tonnes of sugar. “This performance reflects the record high levels of rainfall, which resulted in waterlogged soils, particularly at the Albion Estate, and strike action that resulted in over 5,600 man-days being lost,” the Mid-Year Report indicated.

As such, it was emphasisd that the sugar industry declined by 22.4 percent when compared to the same period in 2020. Some of the reasons indicated were a 30 percent mortality of mature cane at Albion estate, 10 percent at Uitvlugt and 5 percent at Blairmont due to the floods. Another 15,000 tonnes of sugar in the second crop were also expected to be lost, based on the Report.

Back in 2017 the Coalition Government had unveiled what it termed a ‘State Paper on the Future of the Sugar Industry’, which it then said would focus on the poorly-performing estates and have them shift from sugar to diversification. The plan was to amalgamate Wales Estate with Uitvlugt Estate and reassign its cane to the Uitvlugt factory, since the estate is operating at 50 percent capacity. Sixty percent of its drainage and irrigation infrastructure is in a dilapidated condition. The corporation furthermore seeks to divest itself of the Skeldon Estate. The estates of Albion and Rose Hall were to be amalgamated and the factory at Rose Hall is to be closed.”

The Coalition had said that the industry would then consist of three estates and three sugar factories. The estates would be Blairmont on the West Bank Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice and the Uitvlugt-Wales estate in West Demerara. The three estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all five locations. By virtue of the amalgamation, the Enmore, East Coast Demerara (ECD) and Rose Hall, Berbice factories were to be closed. The PPP/C had criticised the move and made a central theme of its 2020 elections campaign to reopen all of the shuttered estates.

However, sixteen months after being in office, Jagdeo told state media on Monday that: “timeline for viability on sugar is linked to how quickly we decouple sugar from other activities, and so going purely after sugar itself it would mean a longer term return to viability. If we can merge sugar with other economic activities on these estates which we are trying to do then we can achieve overall viability faster,” the Vice-President said.

He said the government will be examining several proposals for the sugar industry in the new year, even as he acknowledges that GuySuCo has not only a financial problem, but a production problem. Jagdeo said Albion estate produces about 50% of the country’s sugar and recent floods have destroyed almost 80 percent of the cane for the next crop which will worsen the woes in the sugar belt. For this year alone, the Guyana Sugar Corporation has received over $6 Billion from the national treasury in the efforts to keep the struggling sugar industry afloat.

Meanwhile, Jagdeo also on Monday said that the government has decided to extend the 7 per cent retroactive increase given to public servants to sugar workers. He made the disclosure after meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha; Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Sasenarine Singh; and the General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), Aslim Singh and GAWU’s Assistant General Secretary/Treasurer, Porandatt Narine, to inform them about the government’s decision. “In the five years [under APNU+AFC], there was no wages or salary increase for sugar workers, and apart from that, the annual production incentive had also been terminated,” Jagdeo said.

He added that he had promised that whatever the public servants receive, the sugar workers would get. The DPI said in welcoming the increase, the sugar company’s CEO said it will inject funds into rural Demerara and Berbice in a significant way, doing well to enhance the morale in the industry. He explained that this was especially pertinent this year, because they experienced the worst flood in the sugar belt for 40 years, impacting the self-esteem in the industry. GAWU’s General Secretary commended the Vice President for recognising the need of the sugar workers, as their cost of living escalated tremendously. He said the money will help to improve workers’ standard of living. Jagdeo also discussed the $250,000 one-off payment for severed sugar workers. He said it was a way to alleviate some of the issues they had faced due to their unemployment, describing it as “almost reparative justice” for what was done to them.



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