The Skeldon factory and the railway scrapping; two tragic mistakes – By Freddie Kissoon

The Skeldon factory and the railway scrapping; two tragic mistakes 


Ruling politicians dominate every aspect of life in a nation. A politician can send a country to war and that could mark the end of that state as a viable territory. A politician can decide which industry must close and the economic consequences can be disastrous. Countless citizens of this country across political and racial lines have moaned the loss of the railway. It was a decision of the Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham.

There is no biography of Burnham so we are yet to read a detailed explanation as to why Burnham made that decision. The definitive study of Burnham in power is Tyrone Ferguson’s “To Survive Sensibly or to Court Heroic Death: Management of Guyana’s Political Economy, 1965- 1985.” 

This is a competent and superb research effort and remains a gem in Guyana’s historiography because it remains the only book on Burnham’s reign. Ferguson did not offer reason for the scrapping of the railway.

Politicians are humans just like the lay person in that they have weak points and line faults in their personality. Is it possible that Burnham experienced a bad incident on the railway when he was a boy and he decided to get rid of it now that he was Prime Minister?  Things like these shape the policies of rulers when they come to power. The most luminous example is Hitler. Looking back, we can safely say that the abolition of the railway was a huge mistake.

Bharrat Jagdeo had an ocean of research material to draw upon when he took the decision to build the Skeldon sugar factory. It was a tragic mistake. Sugar had become the nemesis of small Caribbean countries as globalization smothered the economies of poor Third World countries. It was Jagdeo and Jagdeo alone when as President argued that the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU would undermine the CSME thus making Caricom states poorer in a globalized world where small economies could not compete with large, industrial countries.

The Skeldon factory is the largest investment in Guyanese history and it is a failure and will be a failure because sugar as a big foreign exchange earner for Guyana is dead. Globalization has killed it. Guyana has not moved out of its economic mode since George Beckford wrote in 1972, his seminal work; “Persistent Poverty: Underdevelopment in Plantation Economies of the Third World,”
Guyana under Jagdeo embraced all the pitfalls of what Beckford described. Forbes Burnham had the erudition to see the sense in Beckford’s work and tried to move away from monoculture. Monoculture survived and thrived under Jagdeo.

The essential argument of Third World radical economists is that with both inferior technology and manufacturing ability, poor Third World states cannot compete with super-rich industrial countries. It was only Guyana that stayed with sugar as the Caricom states diversified.

Unless Jagdeo writes his memoirs and is honest in it, we will continue to guess why he went with Skeldon when the curtains were coming down on Caribbean sugar.
There are four reasons why sugar was dying and Jagdeo should have exited the industry. First we cannot in the foreseeable future compete with countries whose sugar industries are technologically driven making then more competitive than Guyana’s. Even in family owned sugar business in Florida, cost of production is lower than in Guyana.

Secondly, global use of sugar from cane has been substantially reduced the past twenty years because of alternatives. Chocolate and soda are using sweeteners other than sugar from cane. Many sweetened products use corn syrup. In fact, many of the world top brands in soda do not carry cane sugar.

Thirdly, Governments in the industrialized world are constantly warning their citizens to reduce intake of calories to prevent the onset of weight. President Obama’s wife is in the forefront of this campaign. Fourthly as the Tate and Lyle personnel told the Guysuco Commission of Inquiry, European countries have replaced cane sugar with beet sugar. Guyana’s sugar into the European market is quickly coming to an end.

Professor Clive Thomas, the Chairman of Guysuco, sees the survival of cane sugar through the Caricom markets. Even if that is so, Guysuco will not be the large industry vital to Guyana’s economy as it was in the immediate post-colonial years. If Guysuco will survive through Caricom markets, the foreign exchange earnings will not be so exciting. The harsh reality is that the reign of sugar in the West Indies has gone the way of Test cricket in the West Indies – gone for channa (to use local lingo)é

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  • de castro  On 08/04/2015 at 3:18 am

    Railway and Skeldon are not dead or dying….both very ill.
    Both can return to “healthy” resurrection given the right medicine…..(make over)
    A challenge for both Thomas and Granger.
    Both can be revived with privatisation “internal exterrnal” investment.
    Public Private ownership with government guarantees.

    With all the “thieving” money invested in foreign tax havens repatriated to
    Guyanese banks for internal investment.Most international banking institutions
    are being “fined” for their “illegal” actions and only yesterday a global “trader”
    was jailed for 14 years and all his millions confiscated….returned to taxpayers
    for his “conspiracy” of LIBOR fixing on inter bank interest rates.
    Its a first with many other individuals facing prosecution.
    Some say their “bosses” should also be held to account for
    “Fiddling” but am sure the “regulators” will be after them as well.
    Will soon did out, !!
    Public opinion is swaying towards “anti banking” profiteering….off local
    /internal bankng customers/consumers. Internationally much more difficult
    a task to “investigate/control” with electronic banking on the up.

    Just hope comrade Thomas and Granger are made aware of the “shenanigans”
    and make the necessary changes in the “banking laws” of de fatherland.
    Our world s Global NOT Local and change we must or die we will.

    My internationalist thinking on way forward for Guyana and Guyanese.

    In 60 s I travelled on east coast railways daily to further my education in GT
    Sugar/goods/passengers can be transported on a revived railway service
    Mahaica to GT where it can be shipped “packaged” in containers for global
    markets…..just one of many possibilities for rail travel.
    High speed rail in UK is soon to be debated/decided on UK future infrastructure
    linking cities north/south…..trains at speeds of planes. Life in 21st century UKPLC…..AIR SEA ROAD RAIL RIVER all future developments of major movement
    of goods/services/people.

    Think that’s more than 200 words sorry if it was too much bla-bla-ing.
    Thanks for reading…all very boring !😴 am sure many will have better ideas locally.
    Que Sera Sera

    • albert  On 08/04/2015 at 11:44 am

      Kamtan it is fun reading your piece. You are an optimistic dreamer. Can see the trade unionist side of you opting for the small man. You remind me of my teenage years in Guyana with people crying out they are poor and dont have money. We argued why did the government not print money and give everyone a few millions. WE will be rich and the poverty problem solve.

      Kissoon wrote a good piece on sugar but the the historical mistake was Burnham nationalization of the sugar industry. Capitalism is a brutal game. No profit and private capitalist will close down tomorrow and move to something else. Guyana sugar production cost is just not competitive with the rest if the world and taxpayers will have to keep subsidizing the industry. Visited Dominican Republic recently where they have a large sugar industry complex. Those guys work for starvation wages no Guyanese would accept.
      I think your worry is about the thousands of workers who will have no jobs if the industry close down. Thomas is a brilliant regional economist but I dont think he could turn yhe industry around. Caribbean folks these days watching their figure and know about sugar substitutes……even the Caribbean market is diminishing

      • compton de castro  On 08/04/2015 at 1:40 pm

        Dominican Republic is Hispaniola Columbus discovered and his bones are buried there ……not USA. Lived there for a few months and fell in love with
        the island and its Hispanic culture/people.
        Most of the sugar cane industry there employ Haitians who work for slave wages……very few DR citizens work in the industry.
        Was shocked when I read that Haitians were being denied resendential status there…..some even DR born. It’s not unlike Puerto Rico ….American state with no rights to vote. Shameful and disgraceful !😈
        Another case of minorities being “abused” for political gain.
        Hitler re-incarnate.😈
        Am forever the optimist and remain hopeful that a solution will be found
        for Guyana s sugar industry……..slimmer and leaner/meanerr maybe !
        Burnham nationalised so Granger privatises it.😇
        Oil wealth used to subsidise it ????
        A political solution is certainly possible….fingers crossed.

        Am addicted to cafine but no DEMERARA substitute will suffice.
        Sweeteners are cartegenic and should be avoided….best sugar also.

        Hey when I left Guyana first time early sixties £=$4.80GYD
        Printing money the result ? If “black gold” is traded in EUROS
        the USD is in trouble…….make hay while sun shines……
        am enjoying my £=€1.40=$1.56……will certainly holiday in USA
        when £=$2.00……can visit 7 different EU cities in 7 days.
        No need to go far for a culture feast. EU is more interesting than USA.
        more diversified culturally.
        My local town Crawley few minutes from Gatwick airport
        where 40million people pass through yearly is now a most cosmopolitan
        town 45 minutes from central London. Summer here ….spring autumn
        Spain and winter further south…..Peru Brazil Guyana.
        Retired at 60 now 71 and am now the retarded poor living on
        pensions paid in pounds. Life is a bitch and I love bitches.!

        Nice to have you back on GOL ….you were missed.😄
        Clyde Duncan asked about you…..I suggested you may have joined IS
        jihadists fanatics in Syria….😀😀😀😀😈
        Am in UK back in Spain end September.

        Write on brother.
        Hasta luego

      • de castro  On 08/06/2015 at 1:31 am

        We have had “natio😀nalisation” then “privatisation” now we have “globalisation” or “corporatisation” …what next ?😈

        In Burnham s era it was “nationalisation”
        Later Cheddi changed that to “communalization”
        Let see what new kids on the block will do ?

        Reformation of power for starters…..local elections with more political power
        redistributed to local government… suggestion.
        With taxes collected locally spent on improving local communities.
        Am now branded “communist” ! Ha ha! Most trade unionists were.

        Taxes collected nationally is much more than local taxes but if not
        spent/invested efficiently/effectively it is “wasted” on many “white elephants”
        Dead duck political decisions.😇

        Corruption in guyana is endemic…..considered “smart to cheat”
        “Thief even if you get caught” …..blatant disregard for a honest days work for a honest days pay…and labour laws or law enforcement agencies.
        Its an uphill struggle……but “no pain no gain”… battle or war is
        won without a struggle. Guyana dilemma.😈

        We shall see ! Time will tell !
        Philosophically yours
        Kamtan…..IS needs you !😀

  • Ron. Persaud  On 08/04/2015 at 7:28 am

    The fate of the railways was debated to death (please pardon the pun). The decision to scrap them was tough; but I still believe that it was the correct step.
    It seems that railways elsewhere were developed to transport things – rather than people. I remember the West Coast Railway well, having regularly travelled on it from “an infant, mewling and puking in my mother’s arms” (apologies to Shakespeare) until I was 24 years old. It transported people. There was a ‘first class carriage’, three or four ‘second class carriages’, one or two ‘goods wagons’; and finally the “Van”. Occasionally tank cars carried molasses.
    There were “cargo steamers”, even a special ‘NWD and Pomeroon Steamer Service’. (Remember the joke about “North-West steamer capside”?) Freight went by water because it was more convenient.
    When the infrastructure is established, it is quite economical to increase the rail network. I am inclined to believe that there will have to be a huge “gold rush” or something similar to justify the establishment of a railroad anywhere in Guyana.
    Roadways are much more useful and relevant.

  • compton de castro  On 08/04/2015 at 8:02 am

    Beg to differ……u have the “gold rush” already……700 m barrels of “black gold”

    The best policy is to develop it at a pace which suits Guyana s development.
    Some very interesting “commercial” decisions to be enacted in law by its
    parliament over next 5 years…….maybe T+T and Venezuela should be
    consulted on the development of their oil industry.
    Am sure their mistakes will benefit Guyana’s decision making.

    Over next decades “oil” will be diminished as a source of energy and solar wind and wave will take the lead. One must look at economic/political decisions
    “long term” …..quick fixes are short term knee jerk reactions.

    Roads are probably more “immediate” than rail at present but “infrastructure”
    includes all forms of communications/development in the future.

    Let’s hope that not too many mistakes are made. Must remain positive.

    As for my experience on rail travel…….we always crossed into the first class
    carriage with our second class tickets…….it was fun.😇😈
    Maybe a “tourist” class railway can be developed……India still has some
    rail links from colonial Victorian times still in service.
    On my last visit to GT I did visit the GT railway station but it was all
    derelict……saddened me !

    Must be some railway enthusiasts around the globe who may be interested.

    In UK even some “steam engines” are in operation taking tourists for rides in seaside towns/villages…….

    Que sera

    • detow  On 08/04/2015 at 2:34 pm

      Quite interesting moments on Guyana’s past, present and possibly future however, I do belive that the decision to scrap the railway system was based on the following points: one – the system was old and dilapidated and replacement parts were difficult to obtain in addition to being prohibitively expensive and two – to do a comers replacement of the vintage engines and cars would have meant the replacement of the tracks as well since the world had moved on to a different gague of tracks. Again, Guyana was in position to afford any of this. The best decision for that period in time was to scrap the system and go with transportation by large private busses. What happened to that initiative (the privatization of the busses) is history.

      • detow  On 08/04/2015 at 2:39 pm

        Should have been “a complete replacement……..” Excuse the typo, thumbs too large for cell phone 😗😗😗😗

  • compton de castro  On 08/04/2015 at 3:07 pm

    Go along with you on privatisation issue……
    Public transport should remain publicly owned/operated with proviso
    no “subsidies”……
    Water also should remain publicly owned/operated with same proviso.
    Power also should remain publicly owned/operated with similar proviso.
    Gas another power source should also remain publicly owned/operated.
    Solar wind wave can be subsidised as change over from fossil fuel to
    renewables expands. Global warming the issue.

    Taxes collected locally should be ” invested” for improvements to its local tax contributors area.

    These are all political/economic issues which should be seen as separate
    in decision making.

    Not sure what happened to the privates. Buses ……maybe you can enlighten me.
    Were they replaced with taxis ?

    Get yourself a tablet with touchtype keyboard my friend.
    Amazon UK delivered one to my door next day £35 which am now using.
    Technological age we now live in.😇ukplc.

    Enjoyed your input GOL

  • detow  On 08/04/2015 at 4:44 pm

    IPhone is not the problem, eyes are. Now typing this on IPad with slightly larger keyboard. Also, presently at the cottage in Campbelford with limited wifi access. Have desk top computer, Laptop computer IPad 6, IPhones 4, 5 & 6a all good but Eyes bad 😭.

    I have limited knowledge of what happened with the bus service since after advising the government on the railway issue (Organization & Methods/Systems Department) I highlighted it back to my job in London and from thence to Canada where I have resided for the last forty-seven years. However, my understanding is that the government of the day ordered several large busses from somewhere in India and before they were put into service some of them needed major overhauls. The government then privatized the service and overtime, due to user complaints the system morphed into the mini bus industry. Maybe someone else can fill us in on the evolution of the bus service.

    I still intend to visit my sister some time in October and, as promised, will call you when I get there. Maybe we can meet and shoot the breeze. Really looking forward to visiting my old haunts.


    • de castro  On 08/04/2015 at 5:18 pm

      Am in UK at moment but off to Spain end September.
      Do you do Gatwick or Heathrow on London trip ?
      Not sure if will be in UK October but back for Xmas new year.
      UK s weather unpredictable.
      Shoot the breeze must be some canadian American slang???
      Explanation necessary !😇

      Guss bus service wass replaced with “self employed” mini buses.
      GT market place is absolute madness…vehicles pedistrians passengers in one
      lunatic scramble…..similar to Lima in Peru.
      Don’t think they ever heard of “Bus Stations””taxi stands” etc

      Let’s see how new kids on block address these issues.
      Que sera

  • albert  On 08/05/2015 at 11:27 am

    Kamtan: Nice to have you back on GOL ….you were missed…I suggested you may have joined IS jihadists fanatics in Syria….😀😀😀😀😈
    Those jihadists shoot people like me. Was away travelling with my grands and their parents. My first grandchild got accepted to an Ivy league University to do chemical engineering starting Sept. To celebrate I took everyone on a long cruise. You will know the feeling when your kids and grands do much better than you might have done. Wish it was safer to take them to see Guyana. Have you ever thought of taking your grands to Guyana?

    On the subject at hand wish I had seen a good cost analysis study on the railroad. The issues were complex as you guys are showing but I dont think enough consideration was given to the public cost of not having a railroad. Think of the cost in foreign exchange of importing buses, cars, accessories and energy (oil) for multiple years in the absence of the railroad. If you visit the areas around Regent/High Street after work/school with people trying to get to the east coast, you get the message.

  • de castro  On 08/05/2015 at 1:39 pm

    Welcome back !
    Thought of it but my grands prefer “exotic” holidays elsewhere.
    Will certainly take my four (adults) sometime in future but not just now,
    It will be a culture shock for them !

    Last time in GT after a two decade absence it was a culture shock for me.
    Demico House Big Market square with passengers/pedistrians/taxis honking
    their horns Madness. What about a bus station taxi stand and pavements
    for pedestrians use only.????

    Reminded me of Lima in Peru…..

    Infrastructure is the responsibility of government but its too early to tell
    if new kids on block can cope …… their dilemma.
    Wish them luck as they will need it…..

    Am in UK most of summrt now back to spain end september UK XMAS
    2016 then maybe PERU BRAZIL GUYANA….winterr.
    Dont like “cold climate” or snow.

    Congrats to your first grandchild in her success. One of mine is hoping to do law
    at Harvard then return to practice here in uk…..she is on a five year scholarship
    at best secondary school in sussex taught by monks 10/12 in a class. Free.

    Whete are u in USA ..BIG APPLE ?

    ok my friend nice to have you back on GOL.


    • albert  On 08/05/2015 at 8:51 pm

      Where are u in USA ..BIG APPLE?
      No… I am in the deep south, enjoying southern hospitality. Its the best place in the US to retire to if one love peaceful country life like Guyana used to be.

      • De castro  On 08/06/2015 at 7:44 am

        My best mate from Guyana days sold up in posh Reigate surrey and now hails from Pensacola (dixieland) …usually refer to him as man from “pepsicola” now. His home in UK £1M today. Home in Pepsicola £250.000…5 bedrooms
        and acres of land. He sold 3 years ago for £799.000.
        Says he has no regrets and its a “bible in left gun in right” wow wow.
        sorry not for me !😀
        When guns laws are reformed will visit….if I carry a gun I must be prepared to use it……but am no Jesus slap my cheek will kick your ass.

        Do like the Miami Hispanic lot for music food culture…..but try to avoid cities
        as hope to live and exit of “old age”……

        Que Sera
        Crawley nr Gatwick suits me fine…..with 40m passengers a year to socialise with in bars restaurant in town centre.
        Have a new one every week to try out…..latest TURTLE BAY cocktail bar/red.

        Jamaican Sri Lankian owners. West Indian east Indian cuisine.
        Just let me know when u arrive Gatwick ….7 minutes from my pad.

        Am back in Spain end sep with Xmas new year UK.


  • detow  On 08/05/2015 at 7:23 pm

    Compton I picked up the term “shooting the breeze” while on my only visit to Guyana in 47 years; not related to anything Canadian or American that I know of.

    Albert, cost analysis was done and factored into the decisions made re the scrapping of the railway; the suggestion to relocate it to the interior between McKenzie and Lethem was also made but replacement cost was also a main factor. Many in the then government might not have been aware of the considerations except those at the highest levels. It was thought replacing the railway with large busses (many) would have been the solution , and could have been, if handled professionally. Anyway, that is now history.

    • de castro  On 08/06/2015 at 1:50 am

      And so….what next…?
      Tarmac road nationwide….a idea of many others…
      If trail “route” for tracks is still available just “upgrade” ….more cost effective.
      Have seen the revival in UK of “steam locomotive” and “diesel locomotives”
      today its High Speed train to connect cities…north south east west.
      Trains the speed of planes.!!! Fast track to 2100.😇
      Tomorrow Airbus will fly its newly developed plane from London to New York
      in an hour….Concorde was 4 hours but never “commercially” viable.

      In this context of our age guyana will have to “think global” and “act local”

      My vision for de fatherland.

      Sir kamtan lord of cherin master of his destiny.

      • albert  On 08/06/2015 at 11:23 am

        Kamtan: In this context of our age guyana will have to “think global” and “act local
        You forgot one thing buddie, Guyana does not have that large volume of travellers like in Europe, Japan, India and places which built their super railway system.
        Its only from say Mahaica to Georgetown you had significant numbers and a large number of school children……….20 years back however, if you travel by road in the morning hours you had to feel sad to see so many young school children, along the east coast road, struggling to get transportation to Georgetown. You had to hate those politicians for scrapping the railroad.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/06/2015 at 1:44 am

    Albert: You were conspicuous by your absence – Yes, I was asking about you, and I was concerned about your sudden silence – No need to explain, I can see by the foregoing it was all good. Congratulations and Welcome Back!

  • De castro  On 08/06/2015 at 12:15 pm

    For five years I did that journey by rail GG to GT.
    stops included enmore Buxton BV PLaisance and GT.
    Before that I walked a mile everyday to VICTORIA RC school
    my mother a devout Catholic…..religious influences ?😈😇

    That east coast road must be “dangerous”place for commuters today.

    Am sure a good railway service mahaia to GT is possible alternative.

    Let’s hope it happens.

    Que sera

  • De castro  On 08/06/2015 at 12:20 pm

    A more direct route ” motorway” (dual carriage way) further inland on higher ground may be another cosideration in the future.

    Must remain positively hopeful.


  • detow  On 08/06/2015 at 1:09 pm

    Don’t think that railroad revival is an option as a road has been constructed on the embankment at great cost to the taxpayers. To rip that up and recreate the railroad is, I believe, beyond Guyana’s financial ability. Getting mini buses off the road and reverting to large, well constructed, reliable buses is, I think, the best way to go. Any new railroad should be considered for interior travel.

    Kamptan, if you really want good living come to Canada…few people..few problems…lots of land…cold as hell…two, maybe three months of good summer weather if you are lucky…high, high house prices……what more can one ask for???? Am now typing on desktop..came home for one day then back to cottage with limited wifi access but nuff fun on the boat with grandchildren…plenty fresh fish for curry/fish and chips…boy life sweet.


  • De castro  On 08/06/2015 at 2:06 pm

    Hey most of my Guyanese friends and family live in Canada USA as far away as OZ NZ.
    I visit Toronto every 2/3 years but have no intention of living there on a permanent residency.I won’t visit USA until their guns laws are reformed.
    As for returning to Guyana in retirement…..permanently …would be foolish
    with best medical facilities here in uk “Free” .
    At moment its spring UK/Spain summer UK autumn UK/Spain winter southern hemisphere…..Peru Brazil Guyana (borders) certainly not GT..
    Thanks for the invitation and hope to hook up if you are in Tonto on my next visit 2016.
    Hey enjoy yourself with grandchildren fishing et al….😯
    Life is short live for today as if there was no tomorrow.😇

    Am hoping to do a 7 city 7 day holiday in October Madrid London Paris Belgium Holland Chezlovaka Berlin… soak up the culture.

    Soon I may not be as mobile then limited travel but will remain mostly in uk
    as my children grandchildren are here….hey am 71 and counting. 😀

    Have nice day

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