PPP not convinced that Opposition retreated from plans for sugar industry

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THE General-Secretary of the ruling party, Clement Rohee, yesterday questioned whether or not the combined Opposition has indeed “back peddled” on their position regarding the closure of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).And made it clear that the party is not convinced that the opposition parties have really retreated from their plans for the sugar industry, which is grappling with climate change, among other challenges.
Speaking at the party’s weekly press conference, he said, “The People’s Progressive Party has noted the statements from the opposition parties, which signal a retreat from their recent position calling for the closure of GuySuCo.
“The party has noted that their back- pedalling was taken as a result of the strong message that the workers sent to the PNC (People’s National Congress) and AFC (Alliance For Change).”
HISTORICAL POSITIONS
Rohee underscored the fact that the historical positions held by the Opposition have constantly been along the lines of closure of the industry.
He said, “The PNC has always publicly proclaimed its interest to close the sugar industry, the main objective being to weaken the Party’s traditional support base. This still remains the objective behind the PNC plans to close down the industry.
“The AFC has joined the PNC in this sick and morbid pursuit, instead of recognising sugar as a way of life for over 20 per cent of our people and to recognise that sugar is a vital contribution to the economy and to exchange rate stabilisation.”
The General-Secretary reiterated that the current Administration is not fooled by the back pedalling of the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the AFC.
Rohee said, “Sugar workers have already rebuffed the efforts of the AFC to try clarify their sinister intentions for GUYSUCO.
“The recent meetings organised by the AFC in the sugar belt have been colossal failures with very poor turnout by sugar workers, unlike meetings organised by the PPP.
“In the 2011 elections campaign, the AFC promised sugar workers a 20 per cent increase in wages. Such irrational promises, if they had a chance of being implemented, would only kill off the industry rather than facilitate its restructuring for long term viability and profitability
“As far as the PNC is concerned, it is to be recalled that GuySuCo was at the top of the list for divestment under Carl Greenidge. He had Dr. Kenneth King work diligently on the privatization of sugar, a precursor to its closure.
“The new privatized owners would not have had sugar production on their agenda, rather they would have been the landlords of valuable real estate which belonged to GUYSUCO.
“It is ironic that when Minister Irfaan Ali moved to acquire already abandoned cane lands for much needed housing development, the AFC moved in Parliament for him to be sanctioned.
“The PPP also recalls the crushing sugar levy which the PNC had imposed on sugar, starving workers from a decent wage and the industry from much-needed resources for recapitalization.
“Also the PNC had GuySuCo engaged in hare-brained schemes much to the detriment of the industry.
“The Opposition also withheld its parliamentary support for a $5B subsidy to GuySuCo last year. Now APNU, with Tony Vieira as its mouth-piece, is calling for an end to GuySuCo and sugar production. He is joined by no less a person than PPP critic, Clive Thomas.”
SUPPORT THE INDUSTRY
Rohee called on the joint Opposition to support the sugar industry, whose turnaround is possible and has the potential to significantly contribute to the country’s economy.
He said, “Just as the PPP/C Government supported the bauxite industry and believes that Guyana has a future in bauxite, in the same way the PPP is of the view that there is a future for sugar in Guyana, and more importantly, it still has much to contribute.
“Minister of Finance Ashni Singh puts it quite succinctly when he said, ‘The industry is still of sufficient systemic importance to the national economy and to the livelihoods of so many rural communities, and has such deep forward and backward linkages with suppliers and distributors nationwide, that no effort must be spared to ensure its long-term viability, competitiveness, and profitability’.”
The General-Secretary stressed that the sugar industry must not be made a political football, as the Opposition is “fond” of doing.
He said, “(The Opposition) is hell-bent on withholding its support for financial assistance to the industry in the 2014 budget.
“Let them be warned that they are playing politics with the lives of tens of thousands of honest, hardworking Guyanese.
“The PPP accepts that there are challenges which the sugar industry faces, challenges both internally and externally; nevertheless the party is confident that the initiatives which have been embarked upon will, over the next few years, return GuySuCo to a sound financial position.
“In this regard, the PPP welcomes the allocation of $6B announced by the Finance Minister in budget 2014 for the mechanization of the sugar industry. The Skeldon factory, the Enmore Packaging Plant, and investments in mechanization are all initiatives which the PPP/C Government has implemented to ensure that we protect an industry which will continue to be important to the socio-economic development of our country.”
The sugar industry is projected to record an improvement of 15.6 percent in output to 215,910 tonnes in 2014.
By Vanessa Narine