By Dr Leslie Ramsammy
In November 2016 and in January 2017 I wrote about the impending closure of several sugar estates, mentioning that GUYSUCO had already stopped cultivation of canes and maintenance of cane ratoons, not only in Wales, but also at Rose Hall, including Providence, West Canje, Skeldon and Enmore/LBI. APNU+AFC and GUYSUCO strenuously denied they had stopped cultivation. This week Minister Noel Holder admitted that cane cultivation, indeed, had stopped because Cabinet had decided on the large-scale closure since then. He elaborated that even if APNU+AFC now wants to delay the closure at Skeldon and Rose Hall, there is no cane to operate the sugar factories.
APNU+AFC’s empty rhetoric of “continuing on the road to the good life” is exposed as a myth by their unabated assault on the sugar industry, sugar workers and their families. Under pressure, they promised last week to delay closure of Rose Hall (Canje), Enmore and Skeldon Sugar Estates until at least the end of 2018. Yet APNU+AFC permitted GUYSUCO this week to implement the termination of thousands of sugar workers employed at Rose Hall and Skeldon. The termination by GUYSUCO is not a rogue action by a rogue entity. The Clive Thomas-led GUYSUCO Board and the Errol Hanoman-led GUYSUCO Management team are creatures of APNU+AFC and have diligently implemented APNU+AFC’s plan for SUGAR. Far from being a rogue action, the termination of workers at this time is an ugly, mean-spirited, scrooge-like, cruel thing, but coming just before Christmas, it is evil.
Even as GUYSUCO was carrying out a government-hatchet-job of giving termination letters to thousands of workers as their Christmas gift, President Granger addressed a UN meeting in Kenya and hypocritically demanded that we must put “people ahead of profits”. He failed to inform his audience that his government was busy putting “profits before people”. He failed to explain to his audience, like his Ministers failed to explain to the Guyanese people, why BUDGET 2018 made no mention of the unemployed sugar workers and their families.
While President Granger was away on another very expensive trip, in Guyana, his right-hand man, Joe Harmon, the Minister of the Presidency, pretended he did not know and feigned disappointment regarding the sudden termination of more than 2,400 sugar workers, bringing the total to more than 4,000 since Wales was closed at the beginning of 2017. He claimed that Cabinet never sanctioned such a move. Will the Minister of Agriculture, therefore, face disciplinary action? Will GUYSUCO’s Board face the wrath of the government? Will GUYSUCO’s management be held accountable? After all, if they acted without Cabinet sanction, they are rogue elements in the government.
In fact, the Granger-appointed Minister of Agriculture, an AFC member, exposed the trickery, a game of misdirection and obfuscation, misrepresentation and outright lies by announcing that the termination of sugar workers by GUYSUCO is in accordance with a Cabinet-sanctioned White Paper. Holder had submitted this White Paper to Parliament at the beginning of the year. The White Paper was approved by Cabinet and explicitly declared that APNU+AFC was closing Rose Hall, Enmore and Skeldon by the end of 2017, joining the closure of Wales which ended operation at the end of 2016. The closure proposals were strongly defended by Harmon, Jordon, Nagamootoo and Ramjattan in subsequent weeks.
Minister Holder was telling the truth – GUYSUCO’s action was government-sanctioned. The empty promise of delaying the closure and the feigned disappointment that the delay was not honored are more than a case of sheer hypocrisy and unholy deceit. It is a reprehensible case of total betrayal by a group of callous people who likes to play a game of “good cop, bad cop”.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo, meanwhile, is silent again, hiding from sugar workers. Nagamootoo waltzed into the belly of the sugar industry to celebrate his birthday last week and ignored the sugar workers who peacefully presented to remind him that he had betrayed them. They wanted him to advise them what had happened to the Nagamootoo who once pompously declared himself the “champion of sugar workers”. They wanted to know if he would join them to “light a candle for sugar workers”, as he once asked Guyanese in a speech in 2012 in Canje when he had claimed the PPP’s 5% wage increase was shameless. Today, Nagamootoo has gone blind, deaf and dumb as sugar workers are being suffocated and impoverished by closure of estates and are being given termination letters as Christmas gifts.
Nagamootoo’s sidekick, Khemraj Ramjattan, sneaks in and out of Berbice during drinking sprees, ignoring the sugar workers. He, like Nagamootoo, cannot hear the agony and cannot see the sufferings of the sugar workers, the same ones he promised to give 20% annual wage increases to. Ramjatan and his APNU+AFC colleagues did not just dishonor their promise of annual wage increases, they denied any wage increase in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and now terminate the workers from four estates. Ramjattan, and his APNU/AFC colleagues will find time and money to celebrate at Christmas parties and New year’s celebration in the next several weeks while sugar workers and their families worry about feeding their children.
Harmon’s expression of shock and dismay is merely a trick to try and position APNU and the Granger-led Cabinet as innocent bystanders, victims of GUYSUCO. Yet truth cannot be disguised and reality cannot be shielded. As Christmas 2017 approaches, just as in the case of the Wales sugar workers in Christmas 2016, sugar workers and their families in Skeldon and Rose Hall, Canje and maybe Enmore have been sent to the dump, no job, no future. Children of sugar workers will face empty kitchens, even as Ministers and their children and grand-children celebrate with no limits. Indeed, it is time to light a candle for sugar workers.
If there is one thing that APNU+AFC is good at, it is being the Christmas Grinch.