Time for a radical shift in the sugar belt – By Moses Nagamootoo

Time for a radical shift in the sugar belt

JANUARY 26, 2014 |  By Moses Nagamootoo – AFC Vice-Chairman and Member of Parliament

 The shadows of doom seem to be hanging over the sugar industry. Besides continuing mismanagement and political interference, there is the ominous warning from eminent scholar, Dr. Clive Thomas, that the sugar industry has reached a point of no return, “or alternatively, a negative tipping-point”.

For the 16,000 sugar workers and an estimated 50,000 persons whose lives depend of the industry, this raises the spectre of “bitter sugar” that historically was the root cause for oppression and despair of slaves and bonded workers on the colonial plantations in Guyana.  

It is ironic that the PPP, which owes its origin to the sacrifice of sugar workers, who also formed its electoral backbone, has now become the handmaiden of the industry’s feared destruction.

Should the worst happen, which would be a national tragedy, sugar workers must make the post-Jagan pseudo-PPP pay the ultimate price for this betrayal. If the Jagdeo-Ramotar cabal did not heed my exhortation in 2010 to “light a candle for sugar workers” when GAWU was threatened with de-recognition, they would now do so literally on their knees.

Ramotar cannot run from the sugar industry. He sat on the Board of GuySuCo for several unbroken years before he was elevated to a political advisor of then President Jagdeo, who in turn catapulted him to the presidency after a flawed selection process by the Stalinist gang in the PPP leadership.

Nanda Gopaul was GuySuCo’s Board Chairman, but was rewarded for the industry’s failure with a ministerial portfolio, that of Minister of Labour. Nothing could be more anti-labour than the progressive decline of the sugar industry under his watch. Then a New Jersey-resident chairman was periodically flown in on an apparent rescue mission, which turned into Mission Impossible!

On his part, Ramotar as President, admitted on June 16, 2013, that the sugar industry was in crisis mode. In fact, he recognized that the industry was in a coma. Stabroek News quoted him as saying at an event to remember the 1948 Enmore Martyrs, that the industry needed “resuscitation”.

Finance Minister Singh disclosed that there was a 2013-16 “Turnaround Plan”. It was never laid in Parliament, but Agriculture Minister Ramsammy swore that he had seen aspects of it in the House. All of those antics reminded us of how Nero “fiddled while Rome burned”.
Then a brilliant idea struck Ramotar, that if sugar workers were given lands in cooperatives, they could grow canes, as only they know how best to do, which could help solve the low production problem.

But, under his very nose, sugar lands were handed out to the elite for construction, mostly of high-priced Miami-type mansions. Lands originally given to sugar workers’ co-ops in places like Port Mourant and Belle Vue, have been seized from legitimate members and their heirs.
In the post-Jagan period, it was diagnosed that the sugar industry was ill. Jagdeo, not then a quintuple doctor, had promised a cure: a modern sugar factory at Skeldon. Without the Skeldon factory, he had pronounced, “sugar is dead”.

That was in 1999 or thereabout when Navin Chandarpal was the Minister of Agriculture. Instead of putting the Minister in control of negotiation for the modernization of the industry, Jagdeo essentially hijacked the project, and placed his preferred choice in charge. Navin protested that eye-pass. He resigned.

King Jagdeo then negotiated a US$200 million loan (G$40 billion) for the factory, but 10 years later he complained that the factory was not working to capacity. In short, the $40 billion was going down the drain. Jagdeo’s brainchild was deformed from birth, and was not responding to an additional $4 billion in post-natal surgeries.

He is reported in SN on October 2, 2010 as saying that “This is a US$200 million facility… unfortunately, it’s not delivering the results we expected it to”.
“They have too many mistakes going on there and I intend to fix it…it has to change…”If that doesn’t work well, because the European Union cut our sugar prices by 36 percent… if that doesn’t work well the sugar industry is dead,” he stressed. “It’s dead. It’s as simple as that.”
The pseudo-PPP knew how important Berbice was to their electoral fortunes. That’s why Jagdeo was to say: “If sugar is not growing in this Corentyne, this place would be a ghost town…”

Knowing all of that, our government was expected to come up with a rescue plan. But what we got was platitudes and false hopes instead of authentic leadership on the issue. In 2010, CEO Paul Bhim said that sugar was facing a heavy production deficit which slumped to “some low levels”, but promised that things would “pick up soon”.

Ashni Singh promised bumper crops that would have, by now far exceeded 500,000 tonnes and that by mid-2012 the Skeldon factory would be in full production swing. But, production dropped from 325,317 tonnes of sugar in 2004 to 218,070 in 2012.

For 2013 production was just over 186,000 tonnes from a target of 260,000 tonnes. We were worried about loss of the European quota, but could not produce enough sugar to meet that quota. Some years ago when, under the PNC government, Guyana imported sugar for domestic use from Guatemala, there was a big hue and a cry, but like a dog chasing its tail, the pseudo-PPP has landed us in a similar situation. It is not only that we can’t meet our export demands, but we are also unable to put the Enmore Packaging Plant to the use for which billions have been spent.

We are in even bigger trouble. Parliament has already given the industry massive bailouts, and soon government would come cap in hand, for an estimated $11 billion cash handout from taxpayers’ money. We have only the mis-managers of the PPP to blame for the industry becoming a millstone around the neck of the nation.

At the time Jagdeo had said that without Skeldon sugar was dead, I recall Dr, Clive Thomas saying (2010) that the “political moment” was moving in favour of fundamental change. He saw a growing rise in the consciousness of several sections of the people, including even supporters of the PPP/C that you could not continue to rule in the old way.

The situation facing the sugar industry has proven him right. The failure of the pseudo-PPP to manage this industry could lead to massive social dislocation in the sugar belt.
The AFC believes that the “moment” is here for radical shift in how sugar workers think, and they would now need no more proof that they have been betrayed.

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  • Mario DeAbreo  On 01/30/2014 at 4:21 pm


  • Marius O. Okker  On 01/30/2014 at 7:46 pm

    Read Mr. Nagamootoo’s comment on the present state of the sugar industry in Guyana and I was absolutely shocked. In 1950, when I was 20 years old, I graduated from the College of Sugar Technology in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.I applied for a job with Booker Bros. McConnell & Co. Ltd. in London and was sent to British-Guiana. I was placed as asst. chemist at Port-Mourant factory in the Berbice and after 2 years was transferred to Enmore Estate on the East-Coast. Quite a number of Dutch technicians with experience in cane sugar technology joined the firm later on and together we virtually rebuilt the sugar estates managed by Bookers, as most of the equipment was outdated .
    After 3 years I went home on leave, got married in Holland and returned with my wife to Enmore. Both our children were born there and unfortunately our newborn son was ill and we had to return to Holland for medical treatment, as Dr. Romiti from St. Josephs Mercy Hospital advised us to do so. Altogether we spent 12 years in Guiana and the sugar industry was booming at the time. The sugar was produced in bulk and shipped to Georgetown and found its way all over the world. Demerara yellow crystal.We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in your then lovely country and the garden city Georgetown was a pleasant town to go to.
    I recently wanted to take our 2 children, now 53 and 59 years old to their birthplace, but was ill advised to do so, as it considered to be a dangerous place. Of course I do not know all the details of politics and government measures after independence, but how on earth could those responsible let a major industry get into the sorry state it is in presently, I cannot understand. What a shame. I am now 84 years of age and the name of my house in the north of Holland is ENMORE. Never, ever can such a fine industry be revived again without the help of sugar industry trained people. I wish you all good luck. Kind regards. M.O. Okker.

  • Abert  On 01/30/2014 at 11:53 pm

    The term “political interference” of the sugar industry is a gross understatement. When Burnham nationalized the Guyana sugar industry they did not know what they were getting into. For one thing they did not know how wide the operation was and the global agencies involved in the management of the industry. Foreign agencies foresaw mismanagement and the larger risk in dealing with a nationalized entity. They began sending much larger and unverifiable bills for services such as marine insurance, head office management fees, commissions, and a multiple of other services which amounted to many thousands and most of it up front. Because of the rift between Jagan and Burnham large acres of growing cane were destroyed by arsonists most likely associated with the Jagan’s camp. Increasing cost of operation, lower production, and decreasing price for cane sugar abroad contributed to the destruction of the cane industry.
    The Bajans were smarter, they know that politicians could not manages a large private business. They left it in the hands of the private owners but increase the taxes to generate revenue for the government.
    In Hawaii pine is now grown on large stretches of land where cane once grew.
    On one island a wealthy estate owner converted his cane field into mixed farming, growing different crops and livestock, to sell foodstuff to tourists visiting the island. Private owners can create and adapt to changing circumstances. All politicians can do is destroy business.

  • malcolm heydorn  On 01/31/2014 at 3:26 am

    THE ABOVE TWO WRITERS WERE “RIGHT ON” It is an inherent fact that the Dutch, coupled with other colonialists, and ably assisted by local labour, developed the sugar industry in Guyana, providing great profits for the nation, while the poorest had something to eat. Then came the political usurpers into play. First Jagan, in the fifties, and early sixties, after the disintegration of the original PPP, resulting in riots and the burning of sugar cane fields on the various estates. This was followed by the “ascension” of Burnham leader of the PNC, and his unique brand of autocratic government , who, by virtue of import sanctions, among other profoundly unwise “moves”, almost wiped out the existence of his own support. Sugar and rice production were given a back seat in the process; and why this was so, does not leave much to the imagination. just ask the question who planted the cane and the paddy? Is Guyana’s current state of affairs an order of retribution? Hopefully not.. In the meantime, I often remind myself that my great grandfather was a Dutchman also,, and in the late 1870s- early 1890s, was a planter, and head overseer on many sugar estates in the land of British Guiana.
    Regards Okker

  • LIONEL PETERS  On 01/31/2014 at 11:16 pm

    The narratives above pains me to read them as I was intimately involved with sugar workers especially at Port Mourant and Albion from my school days
    ,A reputable Guyanese, whom we all thought would have been appointed to Guyana’s diplomatic service under the PPP/C Administration, recently brought to my residence a “Black covered Manuscript” and explained that he paid US$2,000 TO OBTAIN IT.
    It is`alleged that the document is the thesis submitted by the current Chairman of Guysuco for his “so called doctoral graduation”
    Further, it is alleged that the document is the work of his, the new Chairman’s, brother-in-law.
    It is contended that this new Chairman of Guysuco is no Phd graduate.
    His lettering is very questionable.

  • Greg  On 05/04/2014 at 2:43 am

    Disgusting propaganda.

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