Opposition, Unions to get back to Gov’t with proposals as talks on sugar industry begin

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The Government on Saturday (December 31, 2016) hosted a meeting with a team from the Parliamentary Opposition, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), the Guyana Agricultural and Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) at the Ministry of the Agriculture to determine a way forward for the sugar industry.

The move by the Government was welcomed by all parties.

According to a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency, President of GAWU, Komal Chand was pleased to hear that what the Government has are “mere proposals and the proposals are for discussions and it is not a case where decisions are made and we are going through an exercise and that is satisfactory to us. We recognise that consultations have taken place and we take fact that the proposals are not final. That is acceptable to us.” Head of NAACIE, Mr. Kenneth Joseph echoed similar sentiments.

During a Press Conference on Friday, Chand said he hopes the purpose of the Government’s meeting was not to merely communicate a “done deal” to the stakeholders.

Speaking on behalf of the Opposition team, General Secretary of the Peoples Progressive Party, Clement Rohee expressed thanks to the Government for the invitation to engage in the consultations as he noted that it is the livelihood of thousands of Guyanese that will be affected by the outcome.

According to reports, proposals to sell the Skeldon Estate, factory and co-generation facility, the possible sale of Enmore and the “merging” of others leaving the industry with Wales-Uitvlugt, Albion-Rose Hall and Blairmont and the stripping of drainage, health and activities from the corporation’s responsibilities were floated by the Government. Currently, the Government through the state-owned corporation takes care of drainage and irrigation works among other things in communities in which it operates.

However, the unions maintain that there is no need to close any estates or factories.

Leading the Government team was Vice President, Khemraj Ramjattan, who in an invited comment at the conclusion of the meeting, said that Cabinet took the decision at its last sitting, to have the consultations begin at the soonest possible time. Registering his satisfaction with this initial meeting, the Minister said that consultations are being conducted to ensure that the best interest of all stakeholders will be considered.

“I am happy to state that indeed it was very civilised. We made a major decision at last Cabinet that we do have to have consultations and it will be extended now. The documentation that we gave them as to the options proposed to us by GuySuCo has been shared and they said that they needed time to study it and we agreed with that because they only got them this morning. They have asked for some further additional reports and studies as to what made GuySuCo come to the decision and to set out these options. I agree with them because they must have source documents and so it is important that they be part and parcel of the decision-making or at least know how we are thinking and that is important. I am very pleased with the entirety of the meeting,” Minister Ramjattan said.

Following an invitation to the meeting, the stakeholders have requested documents which the Government is using to base its statements and decisions in relation to the industry.

The Government team was led by Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan and included Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder, Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Volda Lawrence, Minister of Natural Resources, Mr. Raphael Trotman, Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin and Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Jaipaul Sharma, while the Opposition team was led by General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party, Mr. Clement Rohee and included Mr. Irfaan Ali, Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj and Mr. Juan Edghill.

Minister Harmon echoed similar sentiments, noting that despite the late notice members of the Opposition, the Unions and the estates still attended and were actively involved in the discussions, which will ultimately result in decisions being taken with regard to the sugar industry.

“I think they all understand what the position is. We shared documents with them and I believe that we are going to have some fruitful consultations going forward since the [sugar] industry is a very important industry. It is of national significance and so decisions that are made in that regard must take into consideration those factors,” he said.

Notwithstanding the proposals put forward by GuySuCo, the Government has encouraged the Opposition and Unions to make their own recommendations based on all the information available on the state of the industry. A date and time for the next meeting will be determined after the Opposition and Unions would have had time to peruse the documents.

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