Guyana Stabroek News ran a critic a; editorial of government subventions to the state owned Guyana Sugar Company (Sep 3). It must be noted that GuySuco is (was) not the only ward of the state. There are several other state entities and agencies and areas of investment, on which greater expenditures were made without significant financial returns. What is wrong with such investment on sugar where some 50K people directly depend on the company for their survival and thousands more have indirect connection with the industry for their income? Isn’t government also funding development cost of Exxon and other oil companies as well as housing, utilities, infrastructure, and several other industries?
At any rate, one cannot measure cost/benefit only in terms of return on dollars invested (economics) but on service provided – total value for money.
Leaving aside its critical political role (of making and breaking governments and political parties and the fact that GuySuco was and has been kicked around like a football), one must also examine the sociological, cultural, sporting, and health roles of the company, not to mention its roles as a source of employment and a large tax contributor to the economy and of providing utilities (like electricity and water) to state institutions. Substantial amounts of money from its allocation were or have been spent on the above as well as on other roles of the company. The above, in no way, dispute the fact that money was and has been wasted at GuySuco and that something must be done to stem the hemorrhaging.
A staggering almost $21 B was spent on Guysuco over the last two years and the company still can’t be turned around. Ravi Dev and myself had proposed a plan, after consultation with investors in India and locally, during the coalition tenure (as early as 2016) and repeated in the early months of the changed administration that would not have cost a quarter of the above amount and that would have turned GuySuco into a profitable company co-owned by the workers and private investors with the government also a shareholder with virtually nil investment. The plan involved leasing the land and investors injecting money towards rehabilitating, modernizing, and managing the factories as well as upgrading the fields and the workers growing the cane (as co-owners) and selling to the factories. Indian investors and even Guyanese were willing to put their money into the plan. The plan would have prevented the shuttering of the four estates (or re-opened them). Then GAWU head Komal Chand gave support. The Plan from Deshmuks (Mumbai) and other investors was presented to the APNU/AFC coalition directly after the announced closure of Wales and other estates. Ravi Dev, accompanied by Attorney Nigel Hughes and Chairman of NIS Dr Surendra Persaud, presented the plan to Min of Agriculture Noel Holder, Min of Business Dominic Gaskin and Min of Finance Jordan at a meeting arranged by President Granger. The Plan, not costing government any money, was rejected. The coalition went on to allocate estate lands to cronies. The sugar workers are yet to be considered for land leases to grow food. The new administration did not approach Ravi or me on the plan.
As you editorialized, a huge sum of money was spent on GuySuco. There is no breakdown on expenditures – salaries to workers, management, drainage, equipment, etc. Thus, it is impossible to do an assessment if it is money well spent. The sugar workers (on the field and in the factories) work the hardest but are the lowest paid among state workers, even going dipping below the minimum monthly wage. And unlike other state employees and GuySuco management, they get no perks and no pension or gratuities. Sugar workers are fodder with hardly anyone championing the interests of sugar communities. They are left on their own after helping to build the country with their sweat and labor after giving support to political parties to get into government.
In assessing investment in GuySuco, one must take into consideration that the sugar estates (GuySuco) are not merely sugar producing entities. They play a very important role in communities that succeeding governments and even critics fail to recognize. Since as a child in the 60s, I remember the very important role the sugar estates played in the health care, socio-economic development, sports or recreation, and cultural development of communities. So many went to the estate maintained health centers for various kinds of ailments, cuts, bruises, and other issues. The estate health centers, in the absence of hospitals, served hundreds daily. Youngsters, myself included, and even the aged, frequented the community centers in Port Mourant and Albion to play cricket, volleyball, table tennis, dominoes, and for weight lifting and jogging as well as for other recreational activities (like gymkhana, fairs, etc). The estates also provided free electricity to important government and religious institutions in communities. Estate managed or owned pipes were an important source of potable water. As a child, I used to fetch water in buckets a mile way for cooking and washing; the canals were used for bathing and swimming. And the estates managed drainage and irrigation to mitigate flooding of not just nearby communities but the wider swaths of the country, including non-estate areas like Manchester, Alness, Georgetown, New Amsterdam, among others. Thus, I am in agreement with your recommendation that “GuySuCo must continue to be funded in its role as maintaining large swathes of drainage and irrigation systems”.
It is noted since the closure of estates and the filling of drains and canals, flooding has been a regular occurrence in Guyana. Flooding was rare during the 1960s and 1970s because of the network of drains, trenches, canals, and other waterways. I remember flooding was rare during 1960s and 1970s when many estates were still functional. Has anyone taken note that right after estates were closed, resulting in a discontinuance of maintenance of drainage and irrigation, that flooding increased? Is there a connection between the two?
It is very harsh to describe “GuySuco as a cash cow dispensing funds to workers, contractors, lenders and suppliers”. Field and factory workers, for sure, have not benefited much at GuySuco. For many years, during PNC and coalition tenure, they didn’t get a cent increase. And over the last two years, even with increases and one time grants, workers are woefully underpaid well below public service.
Sir Jock Campbell stated workers are more important than ships and sugar factories. Judge JOF Haynes, in determining an arbitration award for NAACIE, stated workers’ increases should not be based on profitability of companies but circumstance of workers. He added, when a company is long established, it must cater for good and bad times. Money should have been set aside for bad times. Instead, sugar profits were not invested for the long term benefits of sugar workers. evy went to national development for national service. The money should Sugar workers did not receive profit sharing that was usurped by Burnham to fund national service and national development – all at the expense of sugar workers. When GuySuco was in bad shape in 1989, Hoyte turned to Booker Tate to turn around the industry. The first act of Bookers was to increase wages substantially as an incentive to get workers to the field.
Sugar must not be allowed to die. It has longevity, been around for three hundred years. Oil and gas will run out in 30 years. But the land will be there for sugar and to grow food which we need. Guysuco should be run professionally and by skilled personnel who can turn around the industry.