‘Time for Mr. Lincoln Lewis to be brought in from the cold’ – Ambassador Hinds
See below letter by Samuel A. A. Hinds, Guyana’s Ambassador to the United States of America and the Organization of American States:
Being myself on old employee of our bauxite industry, of 25 years, over 1967 to 1992, and having been Minister Responsible for Mines and Minerals (including our bauxite sector) over 1992 to 2011, I am obliged to respond (as someone who knows) to the allegations by Mr. Lincoln Lewis in his recent letter in Kaieteur News of Monday, February 13, 2023, entitled “Under Jagdeo’s Presidency the bauxite industry self-contributing Pension Fund worth more than $2.5 Billion was destroyed,” “the single largest pool of money owned by African workers” as he says.
The Bauxite Industry contributing Pension Fund was not destroyed but distributed to its members. President Jagdeo saved it from destruction by refusing to hand it over to Mr. Lincoln Lewis as Head of the Union and his associates. Our PPP/C Government’s position was that we had a legal and moral responsibility to hand the full benefit (employer and employee contribution as provided for in the pension fund rules) to every member of the pension fund. We said to Mr. Lewis and his colleagues that we can give each worker his cheque at one table and you can have a table nearby so that each worker could deposit it into your Fund as he or she may choose. It was for you, Mr. Lewis, to so persuade and commit to the workers.
Yes, “all bauxite workers, at a certain time, both at Linden and Berbice were terminated (some twice)” but no worker at that time went on the breadline. Those workers ended one day working for the Government owned company, receiving their termination of employment and all benefits; and the very next day went back to work for the new private bauxite company.
Mr. Lewis is remembering only those parts of various stories which paint his false picture of Former President Jagdeo and the PPP/C, as he advances his false charges that we have been bent on discriminating against and affronting the dignity of our fellow Black Afro-Guyanese citizens. We were not without blemish, but we worked for the equitable development of all our people.
Yes, there were lots of job losses in the bauxite sector: the first, the biggest and most traumatic was in 1983. For a full story allow me to recall the history. Like Lincoln, I put a lot of my early working life into the bauxite industry. I was devastated at many levels by the obvious steady decline after 1975- even though, I knew about the new, more advantageous bauxite deposits that were developed in Jamaica, Guinea and Australia; and I knew that nothing is forever-everything goes through the life cycle of being born/started, maturing, glory days, peaking, declining and disappearing. This is particularly so with “wasting resources” – minerals and oil and gas resources which do not “grow back” in our lifetime. The challenge is to use the benefits derived to soundly build new places in the future.
By the early 1980s many authorities were calling for a great downsizing and transforming of our bauxite sector and wondering whether it could be profitable again. President Burnham in 1982, looking to a return of the World Bank/IMF, gave a go ahead for shrinking, which saw the drawing up of retrenchment lists to reduce employment by one third at every level. He back tracked in 1982, but the retrenchment went ahead in 1983. About 1800 employees were retrenched then, receiving their full retrenchment and all other benefits.
Declining fortunes continued in the bauxite sector requiring regularly, millions of dollars of subsidizing support from our Treasury. In addition, there were two multilateral interventions – 1985 and 1990- and “voluntary” retrenchments (without replacements) was extended. Mr. Lewis should see the “beleaguered Guysuco” as being these days in much the same position as the bauxite sector was through the 1970s and 80s, receiving proportionately similar billions of tax-payers money, and finding similarly, that the new and different approaches recommended by engineers and consultants have not been rewarded. Our experience in the way our bauxite sector has evolved can provide us valuable insights on how our sugar sector might yet evolve.
When, we, the PPP/C entered Office in October 1992, we met in place an Agreement entered into between the outgoing PNC administration and the Multilaterals and Bilaterals, which saw a Foreign Manager, MINPROC of Australia, installed since 1990. MINPROC was to pronounce by the end of 1994, whether they saw that the sector could be restored to profitability or not. If profitable the company was to be divested; if not, it was to be shut down forthwith. After more than a dozen years, more good money from taxes was not to be thrown to the bauxite sector to keep it going.
When in 1994 MINPROC announced that it saw no way of bauxite returning to profitability, we PPP/C, according to the PNC entered covenant, were supposed to shut down the sector forthwith. But we did no such thing: we violated that covenant. We argued with the World Bank/IMF other Multilaterals and Bilaterals and found a number of creative ways, off and on budget, to keep the sector going, whilst we continued shrinking by retirement and “voluntary retrenchment;” and “unbundling.” We hoped for eventual privatization of the bauxite cores, as eventually happened, and that some unbundled departments would become privatized businesses on their own.
We were conscious that the days of the old paternalistic company town, as well as the socialist state of state-owned enterprises were at an end, but they left in the minds of our people of the bauxite communities a mindset which would be a great drag. Accordingly, we embarked on changing the mindset from “company employees in a company town” to that of “self-responsible, enterprising entrepreneurs in an open town.” President Jadgeo announced special incentives to encourage business ventures in the bauxite communities whether initiated by persons from within the communities, from elsewhere in Guyana, or from “foreign.”
Mr. Lewis charges again that the Jagdeo regime did not acknowledge an offer from the Union in partnership with a foreign investor to purchase Bermine. That offer was considered and found though desirable, to be not credible, and further many workers did not support it.
Mr. Lewis’s reference to the troubles at BCGI in 2009 points to an area for his reconsideration, and perhaps for all of us. Our righteous anger in the 1950s and 60s, our indignation about slavery and indentureship and the historical European colonial exploitation by imperialist capitalists put us at war with the developed countries and their Trans National Corporations. In DEMBA in the late 1960s, in the run up to nationalization, much crude, unruly worker behavior was defended, even instigated, which otherwise would not have been acceptable. No wonder, after nationalization, workers were in some confusion and there was much talk about “functional superiority.” Industrial relations after nationalization in 1971, were the worst they had ever been.
I was Minister for the bauxite sector in 2009, when certain incidents occurred at Aroiama, and it was clear that Mr. Lewis was leading, rather misleading himself and those workers following him, along the 1960s, pre-nationalization of DEMBA playbook. But we are no longer at war with the developed World. These days we aim to be “Workers for the World” and “Partners with the World.”
The attacks on President Jagdeo must be particularly hurtful since as a young economist Mr. Jagdeo led a study of the Linden community with other then young economists of Linden including then young De Clou and young (woman) Cole. He has known of and has been concerned about the challenges of the bauxite communities, second to no other. Thus, it was that from budget time to budget time he would put to the table that our subsidy of electricity in Linden (to the extent of G$3 billion, 90% of the costs) was an important vehicle for putting money into Linden and the other bauxite communities. The problem was that it was greatly inefficient, wasteful to the extent of 50% and more when compared with the electricity consumption of a similar cohort of customers on our electricity grid on the coast. The responsible thing to do was to seek more efficient and effective ways of injecting that money into the bauxite communities. And, sensitive to the dignity of our fellow citizens in Linden we talked little about this subsidy, a very large allocation at that time, until we were braced with charges like those from Mr. Lewis that we were not doing anything for the people of Linden and the bauxite communities.
Again, please allow me to recall that when the Cambior/OGML group to which the Linden bauxite core was initially privatized, after an initial period of success, found themselves with little sales and announced that they had to shut down the operations for a month or two, President Jagdeo without a moment’s hesitation announced that his Government would provide basic, 40 hrs./week, pay to every worker to be furloughed – under one condition – that every such employee, from janitorial to managerial level, be engaged in a certain number of hours each week in learning or teaching something appropriate in computing. It was amusing, but indicative of the challenges we face, in one commentator mischievously remarking that whilst the Jagdeo regime was doing its best to attract and keep mainly Indo-Guyanese workers in the dead end job of manually cutting cane, it was pointing the mainly Afro-Guyanese bauxite worker to the future- working with computers. This would not have fazed Mr. Jagdeo. True, he is an Indian Guyanese, but he is and has been overarchingly, a Guyanese. Comrade Bharat has been and continues to be a boon (blessing) to all Guyanese and Guyana and even further afield where he has been so recognized.
Mr. Lewis’s first two paragraphs, particularly his allusions to the role of Prime Minister Phillips in the current PPP/C Government betray judgements, suspicions and questions, which emerged in the 1950s, and are still hanging around. Much of what these paragraphs say is what is to be read into them, between the lines, subliminal. I read between the lies, questionings about whether Black African Guyanese should be in the PPP and PPP/C?; and if in the Leadership should Black African Guyanese not be pursuing a very Black African Agenda? And would a recognizably true Black Agenda be evident without a combative posture to Indo-Guyanese?
I would know what those two paragraphs are intended to say. I have walked them for twenty plus years. Mr. Lewis and his likes, are still to accept the idea of themselves or anyone being overarchingly Guyanese.
Mr. Lewis’s grumblings of the Men on a Mission, MOM, programme reveals the orneriness in which he is stuck. He is loath to see anything good in the PPP/C. He cannot see that the threat to the Cooperatives is intended to motivate African Guyanese members and leaders “to get up, stand up on their foot” and do a better job. He, and all of us have to get out of falling back on the paralyzing mindset of being helpless victims which sets us up for new exploitation. Nonetheless, we ought to be understanding and sympathetic to Mr. Lewis and help him and any others who are stuck with such views. A steadily closer union wouldn’t happen just so, we have to work at it – and we are not alone as a country.
Today, in many countries with peoples of different ethnicities, much effort is put into having a diverse representative team, even though some of it might at first be thought of as contrived and awkward. Diversity is a common expectation today, but Cheddi and the PPP have been at this task of our nation building, across race, color, creed and class from the 1943 days of the PAC (Political Affairs Committee): and they have persisted. After many years of being cheated, Cheddie and the PPP returned in 1990 to putting together a diverse group for the expected 1990 elections, and I was presented as the Prime Ministerial Candidate. Many Afro-Guyanese asked: You believe that the PNC would allow Cheddie and you-all PPP to win the election? And if them people win, do you believe they will make you Prime Minister in truth? We now know the answers to both those question – both came to pass.
It is time for Mr. Lewis and many of us seniors to reconsider and put aside much of our views, insecurities, and fears and attitudes formed in our youthful days in the 1950s and 1960s. We have had some 60 years’ experience since and much has happened and changed in the World and in Guyana. It is time to accept the PPP and PPP/C and Indo-Guyanese as Guyanese of no less standing and no less caring for Guyana. Cheddi Jagan the leader, members and supporters of the PPP were put to the test repeatedly and we paid our dues many times over during the many decades of our history from the 1950s to today.
Black African Guyanese and Indian Guyanese and indeed Guyanese, of all races, with time, with enough give and take all around have been learning to work together in developing Guyana, and in the process, we are all becoming overarchingly Guyanese. We should not leave Mr. Lewis out – should not leave anyone out. I invite Mr. Lewis with his evident great abilities to change his mindset, change his tune, come in from the cold and join in the realization of a converging Guyana, steadily growing more prosperous all around.
Samuel A. A. Hinds
Ambassador to the United States of America
And the Organization of American States