Monday, September 15, 2008

Sugar on the line

Sugar on the line
Kaieteur News. September 15, 2008 | By knews | Filed Under Editorial

The temperature is rising in the sugar industry. It has recently been forced to deal with a three-day strike that brought its operations in all eight sugar estates to a complete halt.

The issue that precipitated the strike – a wage offer by Guysuco that was deemed totally unsatisfactory to the workers and their union – is still outstanding. It has been sent to arbitration and the two sides are still very far apart.

The workers are signalling that they may resort to the strike weapon if the wage offer remains unsatisfactory, or if their union buckles under.

One political party has entered the fray and has made a number of accusations about alleged maladministration in the industry.

These charges were promptly answered by management. The Minister of Agriculture has accused the political party of opportunism, and we can all be sure that there will be further charges and counter charges.
We would wish to caution all concerned stakeholders about the dangers of making the sugar industry into a political football. The stakes are just too high for our country.

Without even getting into the abstractions of percentage share of the GDP, sugar remains the bedrock of our economy – at least for the foreseeable future – and it is owned by the people of Guyana.

The immense investment in the new Skeldon Estate of approximately one-quarter billion US dollars is a done deal, and the eighteen-odd thousand workers of GuySuCo represent the largest organised bloc of workers in the country.

Their taxes are very significant to the national coffers. The foreign currency brought in by sugar remains very significant, and even though it has been eclipsed by remittances, the latter is a volatile quantum.

Then, of course, there are the cane farmers, whose numbers and acreages were to be greatly augmented by the Skeldon expansion.

Sugar, then, is part and parcel of our national patrimony, and we have to all work together to ensure that it remains a healthy industry that can benefit us all. The Government is obviously aware that all is not well in the industry, since it has ordered a far-reaching review of the operations of GuySuCo.

The Government must not automatically assume that the comments on the industry from other Guyanese organisations and institutions are inherently negative. They could very well arise from the same concerns that prompted the Government-inspired review, and it is, in fact, the duty of all Guyanese to inquire about their patrimony.

Unfortunately, one of the major problems that confront the concerned citizen who wishes to gauge the state of health of the sugar industry is the paucity and lack of relevant information.

Even though a full decade has elapsed since the launch of the sugar modernisation (and expansion) plan, the GuySuCo Annual Report is still invariably over a year late – every year. For instance, we still do not have the report for 2007.

This state of affairs is totally unacceptable in a world of global corporations with annual sales many times the size of Guyana’s GDP, which release consolidated reports quarterly. One hopes that the The Skeldon expansion is the linchpin of the sugar strategy, and its launch has now been delayed by some two years and counting.

GuySuCo has to be much more forthcoming with the details of the project. In the absence of hard, reliable data, it is not surprising that rumours have taken over. Questions abound even to the layperson.

If, for instance, the increased acreage at Skeldon was supposed to be delivering cane since 2006, where has the excess cane gone in the absence of the new factory? The question becomes even more pointed in the face of actually declining overall production.

This newspaper intends to conduct its own inquiry into the state of health of the sugar industry as a public service initiative. It is our hope that the management of GuySuCo and the Ministry of Agriculture will cooperate with us as we all try to serve the people of Guyana.

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