Politics, Race and Sugar



By: Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP

I have agonized for a long time over the real reason for the closure of the sugar estates. In previous articles, I have examined the socio-economic consequences of this decision. I have concluded that it is not a decision based upon finance and economics. Many who are far more qualified in these disciplines have come to the same conclusion.

I am further fortified in this view because the Government itself did no economic impact assessment of any kind before making its decision. The Government even ignored its own Commission of Inquiry’s Report, which did not recommend closure.

So, what then, inspired the Government to close these estates? I have concluded that the decision is rooted in politics and race.

It is common knowledge that the PNC never enjoyed the support of the sugar workers. While in Government for 28 years, the sugar workers remained its most militant opponents. However, sugar was too valuable to the economy for Forbes Burnham to have done anything drastic. In any event, he was too wise a politician and would have understood, deeply, the political and social repercussions that would have resulted therefrom. Under an IMF program and with a policy to reform the tattered political image of the PNC, Desmond Hoyte was left with little room to maneuver.

During all these years, the sugar workers remained steadfast in their political allegiance to the PPP. From 1993, onwards, the PNC remained rooted in opposition to any measure that the PPP/C Administration implemented that would benefit the sugar workers. Throughout those years, they readily invoked the race card against the PPP, accusing it of ethnic and political pandering. Afrocentric figures like Lincoln Lewis, Clive Thomas, David Hinds, and Eric Philips et almade the sugar industry a fertile platform to disseminate their wild theories of racial and ethnic discrimination and marginalization.

Trojan Horses

The abolition of the protective tariff regime that insulated Guyanese sugar on the world market prior 2008, presented a good basis for the PNC and others to stand upon,as they intensified their campaign against the sugar industry. Every single measure thereafter to reform, rehabilitate, reorganize and modernize the industry to meet the new challenges it would have then faced, were vehemently condemned and criticized.

The $120M US investment in the Skeldon factory was peddled as doom for Guyana. This sumwas exaggerated to over $200M US. The Public Servants, Policemen, Teachers and Nurses were told that they could not get their desired increase in salaries because the Government is pumping all the monies into sugar. The residents of Linden were persuaded that investments and job opportunities could not materialize in Region 10 because all the investments are concentratedin sugar. The rest of the workers, were therefore, pitted against the sugar workers. The sugar workers were portrayed as the grouping who is denying other workers their fair share. The racial undercurrents inherent in such a strategy were obvious.

When the PNC, under its new name APNU, was able to control the Tenth Parliament in collaboration with the AFC by a one-seat majority, the floor of the National Assembly was converted into a battleground against the sugar workers. Every attempt to obtain subsidies for the sugar industry was either stoutly defended or our voted down by the joint-Opposition. Budgetary allocations to sugar were repeatedly slashed from the annual budgets. Carl Greenidge labeled the industry a “black hole”.

As the 2015 elections grew closer, the position gradually softened. In partnership with the AFC, the PNC skillfully used Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan as Trojan horses to work in the sugar belt. They promised the workers that there would be no closure of estates. They promised 20% increase in wages and salaries. Then Opposition Leader, Mr. David Granger, endorsed these promises. Hundreds of sugar workers believed them. The rest is now history.

Make Them Grovel

Since the PNC assumed government, it begun a clinical plan to dismantle and destroy the sugar industry. The ideology inspiring this strategy is that dismantling the sugar industry and dislocating the workers is dismantling the PPP support base and dislocating its supporters. That is the reason why the recommendations of the COI were ignored. That is the reason why no economic assessment was ever done.

The PNC knows fully well that the social and economic cost of closing the industry is far greater than keeping the industry alive. In order to achieve this objective, the intention was to brutalize the workers. Therefore, no increase in salaries and wages were paid in two and a half years. Working hours of workers were progressively reduced. When the unions made representations for increase in wages and salaries, they were told that GuySuCo is considering a reduction in wages and salaries. The Annual Performance Incentive (API) scheme was abolished. All this while, the administrative and managerial staff of GuySuCo was consistently being ethnically cleansed of Indo-Guyanese. Protests and pleas from the Parliamentary Opposition, the labour movement and the private sector fell on deaf ears. The nation was told that it costs the Treasury $10B GYD annually in subsidies to keep the estates functioning. While the PPP was in government between 2011 and 2014, the annual subsidy was approximately $4B GYD. This sum allowed the workers to get annual increases in wages and salaries as well as their API. Without the API and with no increases in salaries and wages, this subsidy escalated to $10B GYD, annually. No one has furnished any explanation for this exponential rise. I believe that the subsidy was intentionally escalated in order to exaggerate the cost of keeping the estates open. The President, himself, has said that his Government has spent $32B GYD in subsidies to the sugar industry so far. Another staggering exaggeration!

Now that the estates are being closed, the turmoil and torment of the workers are far from the end. They are now made to struggle for their severance, a legal entitlement due to them upon immediate termination of their employment. After one and a half year and armed with a High Court Order, the unions have not been able to get the severance benefits for the workers dismissed at Wales estate, as yet. We are told that the total severance benefits for all the workers are $5B GYD. This is a relatively small sum for the Government to pay. Yet, the Government is refusing to pay, claiming that it cannot afford to pay all the money at the same time. Nonsense!

The $18M US paid by ExxonMobil stashed away in the Central Bank amounts to approximately $4B GYD; the Ministry of the Presidency’s budget for this year was increased by $3B GYD; the Government pays $2B GYD annually for electricity for Linden; over $1B GYD was paid to BK International on a mere letter threatening litigation in relation to the Haagbosch dumpsite; several billions were written off in taxes for several companies; the Attorney General’s loss of cases is costing billions annually; the Government dietary expenses has increased, progressively, since 2015, by nearly $2B GYD and I can go on. Therefore, the Government can easily find $5B GYD, immediately. The non-payment is intentional.

The non-payment of the severance is designed and intended to humiliate and dehumanized the workers and their families; to make them grovel to put food on the table for their children. The overall intention is to frustrate with the hope that the workers give up and migrate. The ultimate objective is to change the demographic and break the base of the People’s Progressive Party.

Against this backdrop, it is difficult to doubt the veracity of the WikiLeaks cable about Mr. David Granger, sent in the late 1970s, which was revealed two years ago.


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.