By Dr Vishnu Bisram
The PPP and UNC governments in Guyana and Trinidad failed to give land to sugar workers, the base of their political support, to transform the industry (Guysuco and Caroni respectively) and or to help to make their nations self-sufficient in food production.
Former President Donald Ramotar argues that the Guyana sugar industry can be saved and that estates closed by the PNC led coalition government can be reopened to keep near twenty thousand the former and current workers employed. I and over half the country are in agreement. The same can be said of Caroni Ltd in Trinidad where the industry was closed and over 10,000 lost their jobs. Thousands more jobs are tied to the sugar industry in both countries.
Ramotar posits that the industry needs better management, technical assistance and some capitalization to enable it to operate efficiently. He claims that the government of India has agreed to assist the industry by providing varied forms of aid to address the preceding recommendations to rehabilitate and transform the industry. It is believed that India’s assistance would make the industry profitable. The same could be said about Caroni had UNC accepted recommendations.
That India offered “sugar assistance” to Guyana has not been disputed by the PNC led government, giving credence to Ramotar’s claims that government has no interest in saving sugar. Ramotar had also charged the PNC led government policy on the sugar industry is racist in its reluctance to requisition the aid. The PNC had initially denied that India offered aid to the sugar industry. But it reversed track when information became public. President Granger announced on January 26 at India Republic Day reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador in Georgetown that the Indian government offered technical assistance and loans to Guysuco.
It should be noted that the Caroni sugar industry faced similar problems as Guysuco and recommendations were made to rescue it. Aid was offered by varied forces in India as well but was not pursued by the Trinidad government – not under the UNC or under the PNM. The industry was left to die and for the workers to suffer which is similar to what has been happening in Guyana. The UNC had set out to sell Caroni to Clico and put the workers on the breadline. The sale was stopped by the Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj who suggested that it be sold to the Caroni workers instead of Clico. He was fired from the cabinet by then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
I totally agree with Ramotar’s assessment of the ills of the industry and his recommendations for its rescue. Same applies to Caroni. I was also able to confirm that the Indian government has indeed offered assistance to rescue the Guyana sugar industry. The critical question is why isn’t this PNC led government willing to save the industry and by extension over 20, 000 jobs. Another equally important question is: Since Ramotar and his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo knew of the ailments in the industry and the requisite solution, why didn’t they implement it? The offer of aid from India has been pending since the time of the Ramotar Presidency and renewed under this administration. And regarding Trinidad, why didn’t Panday seek India’s assistance to rehabilitate Caroni?
Ramotar should have accessed the aid right away before calling the snap election. And Panday could have done same in Trinidad instead of calling a snap election four years early. And not willing or unable to take up the India aid offer, Ramotar (and Panday) should have ordered that the land be given to the sugar workers to grow cane or engage in farming. Ramotar, like Panday in Trinidad, put his party’s supporters at risk in calling an early election without securing their interests, and off course their jobs. They knew that if their parties were not returned to office, their supporters would be put on breadlines. In both cases, they lost power leaving their supporters exposed to … What manner of leadership did they present to their supporters?
Ramotar’s assessment and recommendations to rescue the sugar industry are not new and novel. Ravi Dev, myself and others made similar recommendations (in the public domain) as Ramotar on transforming the sugar industry. We did same during the Jagdeo Presidency. In addition, we recommended that the Jagdeo, Ramotar and David Granger governments gave/give the land to the workers. Similar recommendations were done by me and others in Trinidad – urging Panday to give the land to the workers. Panday, like Ramotar and Jagdeo, erred in not giving the workers the land. Today, the former sugar workers are still struggling for land and to earn a decent living.
Under our plan, private management (from India) would run the factory and the workers as new owners would supply the cane. In fact, I discussed this model with several sugar industrialists in India and they support it. That is the model used in several states in India and it has been very effective; the workers, small land owners, and private management earn huge profits. There are several companies in India willing to invest in the Guyana sugar industry under this model. The sugar industry in India does not need government bailout, and the same would have been the case in Guyana had it been adopted by the PPP and now this administration.
This PNC led and the preceding PPP and UNC administrations have let down sugar workers. It is not too late to save the sugar industry in Guyana and by extension thousands of jobs. Social problems are mounting in the sugar belt as a result of the high unemployment caused by the government. The PNC led government should access the sugar assistance from India and distribute the estates land to sugar workers to become cane farmers.
The government should not be fearful of workers if they become a landed class. So what if they are kulaks! The communists in Guyana and around the world have become wealthy capitalists off the backs of the proletariat. Are they not the new kulak class?
The workers’ success in Guyana will help to transform the economy making them independent of government assistance while contributing billions in taxes to the coffers. Please accept offers from India to run the sugar estates and for Guysuco workers to grow the cane as new owners of the land. The PPP should have learned from history and saw what happened in Trinidad in 2002 with Caroni and take appropriate measures to protect their supporters.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.