Gov’t defends spending on GuySuCo as $28.7B approved for agriculture

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Pressed by Opposition Parliamentarians for a “breakeven” date for the full reopening and a return of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to profitability, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha said Tuesday that the government will continue to bail out the agency for as long as it needs to.

Between 2016 to 2017, the sugar estates at Wales, Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon were closed by the former APNU+AFC government due to the poor performance of the sugar industry.

During that period, a total of 5,160 workers of GuySuCo were laid off; they were cane-cutters, field workers and factory workers.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

The minister, in defending the $6 billion allocated to the Corporation in the 2022 budget, said GuySuCo was beyond the economic arguments posited by the Opposition and offered support to the social and day-to-day livelihoods of citizens.

“Sugar is our culture and GuySuCo encompasses much more than sugar,” the Agriculture Minister said while noting the added expenses for the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) following the closure of three sugar estates by the previous APNU+AFC government.

“That’s the social things of GuySuCo and whatever it takes, the PPP will ensure it makes the resources available for GuySuCo,” Mustapha added as he defended the overall $28.7 billion allocated for the Agriculture Ministry and its agencies in the 2022 budget.

The entire allocation was eventually passed with a majority vote from the government but not before Mustapha was made to answer questions on issues like contract staffing and increased allocations under vague line items.

A bombardment of questions from the Opposition benches hit the minister one after the other. Those questions focused heavily on the government’s decision to pump well over $20 billion into GuySuCo since it took up office some 18 months ago.

It was also revealed during the questioning that the $30 billion given to GuySuCo in 2019 by the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) to retrofit and revitalise the three remaining sugar estates have been exhausted.

Mustapha said only $3.5 billion of that money was remaining when the PPP/C took office in August 2020.

He maintained that it was economically, socially and culturally right to ensure the closed estates were reopened although he could give no date for this. He said previously said that GuySuCo’s dependence on the government would be significantly reduced by 2026.

Already the government has reopened the Rose Hall Estate. In addition, over 1,300 persons have been reemployed and over 5,000 workers who were severed in 2016 and 2017 have each received cash grants of $250,000 in 2021.

In anticipation of improved production levels, GuySuCo will be concentrating its marketing efforts on shifting from the low-value bulk-sugar markets to more bagged and packaged sugar products.

To this end, these products will increase from 34 per cent in 2020 to 64 per cent of total production in 2022.

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