Downsizing sugarBy Samuel SukhnandanGovernment’s plan in regard to the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) — to close the Enmore and Rose Hall sugar estates, sell out the Skeldon sugar factory, and reduce the annual production of sugar — will have significant implications for thousands of Guyanese, former presidential advisor and outspoken economist Ramon Gaskin has warned.In an exclusive interview with Guyana Times, Gaskin said the APNU/AFC Government’s announcement of the new policy decision on the sugar industry could see some 10,000 sugar workers being directly affected. At present, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) employs close to 17,000 people.In regard to the White Paper on Sugar that was presented in the National Assembly by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, Gaskin said that although Government has given assurance that it would retain as many workers as needed for all operations on the merged estates and factories, this would, to a large extent, not be the case.“It’s a tough economic situation, and decisions have to be made; but, at the end of the day, you are dealing with thousands of people…. You must have alternative plans for them. You can’t just knock them off and tell them the place closed,” Gaskin opined, while acknowledging that GuySuCo is still the largest employer in Guyana.The economist also warned the Government to be careful how they go about implementing this new policy, because, he emphasized, it could have a negative effect on the local economy. He said it could also lead to the increase in other social ills that remain prevalent in society, including suicide and crime.The economist believes that if Government goes about addressing this issue the wrong way, it could find itself facing a rebellion along the sugar belt. He made reference to the 1904 Rose Hall rebellion and said this could occur again, unless alternative employment is provided to the thousands that are likely to be affected.Making reference to a section of the White Paper, which speaks about plans for GuySuCo to lease lands to employees, Gaskin termed this nonsensical, and explained that it is impossible to lease lands to people who were terminated. “I don’t know if an unemployed man could now go and rent land from the people who fire him.”Create new jobsThe former presidential advisor told Guyana Times that instead of continuing to pump $1 billion into the industry each month, that money could be used to create jobs for those who would be placed on the bread line.“One billion dollars can give 30 communities $35 million dollars each… to do local community job creation. We have to create jobs for the communities, and then the economy (would) start to pick up; because then people (would) have jobs, to begin with — purchasing powers and (the capital to engage in) production, and (they would thus be able to) cut down (on) imports…,” he opined.He highlighted that it would take another eight months to implement this new policy, and that $8 million could be used to start creating alternative jobs for those who are likely to be affected.“The White Paper does not deal with this problem at all! What will you do with all of these people? Right now they can’t deal with Wales, and that’s only 800 people. And if you look at the problems that Wales is experiencing, we’re into big trouble. Sending home thousands of people will cause a lot of issues,” he explained.Gaskin believes that opportunities exist to create industrial estates at Wales and Uitvlugt. “It’s not difficult to do. The people who are displaced could be trained and retrained to do jobs other than cutting cane.”Gaskin says that even if Government goes ahead with plans to close the industry, there are alternative measures that could be put in place to assist those displaced; but it would require maturity from GuySuCo, Government and the trade unions representing workers in the industry to arrive at a solution to those workers’ plight.“There is too much stubbornness on both sides. The Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) has a stubborn position to keep all the estates open, and the Government is saying, ‘We can’t do it’. There is no common sense that can bridge the two sides,” he said.He also emphasised the need for GAWU to be proactive, innovative, and intellectual in coming up with solutions for the people, rather than demanding that all the estates remain open.“All the estates cannot remain open! (Why should we not) create industrial estates with that money? GAWU believes that no estate should be closed, and the Government should (continue to pump money into the industry),” Gaskin asserted.A decision was taken last year to close Wales Factory, on the West Bank of Demerara. The operations have since partially been integrated with those of Uitvlugt Estate. However, workers attached to the now defunct estate are still awaiting full payment of severance benefits.A Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into GuySuCo had recommended that the Corporation be privatised within three years. It also recommended that a serious evaluation of all diversification options be conducted, to avoid total reliance on sugar for GuySuCo’s revenues.Sugar has remained one of the biggest foreign currency earners for Guyana, along with rice and gold.