…scotches Opposition claim that it is throwing good money after bad
AS EXPECTED, the $6B allocation to the sugar industry, battling climate change and other challenges were hit in Day One of the 2014 Budget debates with A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Members of Parliament (MPs) maintaining that the monies represent a handout, and contending that good monies are being thrown after bad.However, Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali, the second speaker yesterday, rejected this notion, making it clear that the allocation is an investment that is critical to the livelihoods of 18,000 families and the 120,000 who benefit indirectly.
According to him, the beneficiaries in the sugar sector must be supported and the people “deserve every cent”.
Ali acknowledged the challenges, but stressed the need for the current interventions to be allowed to function.
He said, “The $6B that is given to GuySuCo as subsidy is directed not at supporting inefficiencies….it is important for people to know and understand that we will support their interest and secure the industry and jobs,this is a moral responsibility we have in the National Assembly,” the Minister said.
This sentiment was agreed to by Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge, who stated that the question of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is an important one, considering its import to the well-being of thousands, as well as the country’s economic position.
He noted that sugar was one of the industries that was given special attention by his government when in office – a comment that attracted much heckling, considering the main Opposition’s stance on the sugar sector.
DESTRUCTION OF SUGAR
Ali quipped that on the contrary, Greenidge’s government was the one that presided over the “destruction” of the sugar industry.
“We would never contemplate any system that would see the destruction of the industry,” he said.
The minister noted that the closure of the Leonora and Diamond sugar estates were decisions taken by the former administration.
Greenidge returned that while the industry is important and needs support, arrangements must be in place to ensure that monies requested by GuySuCo indeed go towards fixing the problem
Ali pointed out that the sugar industry is doing better that it was under the former administration.
“The sugar industry was not always in the financial position that it finds itself,” he said.
In order to complete the privatization of the industry, the PNC Government in 1989 gave Bookers-Tate an expensive management contract to manage the industry and prepare it for divestment under a World Bank/IMF Economic Reconstruction Program (ERP).
According to public records, the former administration inherited a sugar industry which in the 1960s routinely produced more than 300,000 tons of sugar.
However, this production efficiency began to deteriorate and production fell to a low of 131,999 tons by 1991.
Minister Ali stated that the allocation to the sugar industry must not be modified, as the industry is too important to the economy.
He stressed that the 2014 budget will make lives of Guyanese better.
Greenidge referenced the promise of a new board and stressed that the challenge here is that the board is “politicied” which should not be.
His arguments continued and stood on the strength of calls by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), whose head, Komal Chand, made similar observations.
The Shadow Minister stated that GAWU’s calls must be heeded.
Despite its challenges, the industry, according to government, remains relevant to the health of the national economy.
In 2013, sugar exports accounted for 8.3 percent of total exports valued at US$112.2M and the industry contributed 3.9 percent of the country’s GDP.
By Vanessa Narine