The GAWU has seen again Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, even in his last days in the post, still singing his tuneless song. It appears to us that the PM really has no bounds and will engage in untruths or half-truths to spin a tale that justifies punishment to sugar workers and their families.
On January 22, a section of the media reported that Mr Nagamootoo told an arranged audience at a public meeting held at Whim on January 21 that closed sugar estates were “absolutely useless…” This is the first time, we can recall, such an explanation or rationale has ever been advanced by the Government or its officials. The PM, an erstwhile friend of the sugar workers, according to a January 26, 2018 DPI article, reportedly said at a meeting with some of the displaced workers of Skeldon and Rose Hall Estates that “…the Government is currently engaging overseas investors through the Special Purpose Unit (SPU), which was established under National Industrial & Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), to ensure future job creation”.
It will be recalled that NICIL’s SPU, through several advertisements, in inviting interested investors to acquire the shuttered estates, pointed out many of the positive characteristics of the estates now deemed by Mr Nagamootoo as useless. We remember, for instance, the East Demerara Estate being described as “…the advantage of operating a sugar factory, with packaging warehouse and fields in five-hectare plots each next to the water transport system.” Investors were also told that there were “a well-established research facility and nursery with several cane varieties and a local pool of experienced factory management and well-educated workforce.” It was also touted that the estate will offer 85% mechanisation from mechanical tillage/planting to harvesting and excellent drainage and irrigation systems with new pumps. That hardly sounds like a useless entity to us. Several entities, we recall, expressed interest in acquiring that estate.
Moreover, a local online news outfit in a June 9, 2019 report shared that “[a]n Indian-Ghanaian-Guyanese consortium is likely to buy out the Rose Hall sugar estate…” One would have imagined that the consortium would have done their due diligence before making a proposal. Unless we are to believe that the investors are senile, as it seems the PM is now experiencing. The failure to close the deal revolved around the caretaker status of the coalition administration. The Demerara Waves, in an August 14, 2019, report, shared that Finance Minister Winston Jordan disclosed, among other things, that “I don’t think, at this stage, quite frankly, with our status of interim that we would want to engage in any major privatisation at this time”.
Mr Nagamootoo also described the Skeldon factory as a “white elephant”. We find the PM’s remarks strange, though his abandonment of what he said previously is not unknown. We know too the PM is getting on in age and he may have forgotten that his son-in-law, at one time, was the salesman, intermediary or broker regarding the sale of the so-called white elephant. The Demerara Waves on January 26, 2017, reported that PM said: “…his son-in-law is helping to find potential investors in the financially crippled state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo)”. It was later learnt that the PM’s relative had arranged visits to all the estates, including Skeldon.
The PM later said “[a]ll of the redundant workers… got severance…” What he didn’t say though was that the workers had to approach the Courts to get those payments. Mr Nagamootoo also said that the ex-workers “…opened chicken farms, some buy minivan, some started pig farms, some alternative employment…” From the narrative Mr Nagamootoo presented, it appears, all is rosy and fine and the workers have all but moved on but this is known not to be true. Just last Wednesday, displaced sugar workers, at an engagement with the media, disclosed that their lives have been turned upside down since the closure of the estates. One worker shared that he is forced to give away produce from his kitchen garden as no one can afford to buy. The reality is that just a few workers have gotten jobs and most with conditions worse than they enjoyed as sugar workers. Mr Nagamootoo ought to be aware that he can spin his web all he wants, as is often the case, he himself will eventually be caught in it.
The PM said that due to the Government’s support of the sugar industry, public sector workers got the “raw end of the stick because we had no money to improve their wages.” This is utter hogwash. Mr Nagamootoo said that the Government was providing $1B per month to the industry. It, in effect, means that the Administration ought to have $12B more to improve wages and salaries for the public servants. Considering the State’s 2018 employment cost, as per the Budget Estimates, the $12B saved from assisting sugar in 2019 was sufficient to give all public servants an across-the-board increase of 20.1 per cent. The obvious question, therefore, is why was it only 9 per cent and given just to those workers below a $100,000? See, Mr Nagamotoo’s web is slowly entrapping him.
Mr Nagamootoo told his arranged audience that: “We don’t want to produce a generation of your young people to fetch bundles of cane on their head, we want them to use their brains, not their heads.” This is a desire not alien to the workers too, who have similar hopes and aspirations for their children. In fact, we recalled not too long ago, that quite a few men and women in our society who have reached high posts and are making meaningful contributions to our society have had roots in the sugar industry. The point is that such dreams of those children and their parents are shattered. Right now, there are many displaced workers who cannot afford to send their children to school. How can those children, using the PM’s words, “use their brains”? The PM also said that our children should be prepared “…to compete in an oil and gas sector”. That sounds nice, but does the sector have space for all our children. Another section of the media reported on January 21, reported that the sector has, so far, created just over “…1700 direct jobs…” It appears, to us, there is hardly space for everyone. Moreover, it has been estimated that oil will be with us for just around 30 years, based on current discoveries. Indeed, even before first oil, we should have been planning for the days after oil, rather the Coalition, known for its pageantry, had glass invitations, champagne and a fireworks celebration rather than addressing how to really move the nation and its people forward.
Mr Nagamootoo, who claims that he is loved by the people, we saw in the media spoke: “…from a stage that was completely surrounded by security”. Certainly, this is unusual for someone who says he is admired. The reality is the PM and his colleagues have been ensconced in their ivory towers, are disconnected from the hardships and realities of our peoples. Their extraordinary security measures are, no doubt, an indicator of the walls they have erected. Today, while the PM and company will seek to woo voters with new promises and fancy dreams, our Guyanese people confront untold hardships and unimaginable misery.