THE decision by Guyana's former A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition government to close that country's sugar industry was callous and ill-advised. Minister in the Office of the President Ashni Singh expressed this opinion during a webinar hosted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Thursday.
The decision to close sugar estates run by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuco) was taken in 2017. Last September, Guyanese President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali announced that the People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) government will begin reopening three of the four sugar estates closed by the APNU/AFC coalition.
Singh said the sugar industry has been an integral part of Guyana's economy since time immemorial and sustained generations of Guyanese citizens, especially those in the rural parts of the country who depended on the industry for their livelihoods.
"I could say that the decision to close those estates by our predecessors in government, was a very ill-considered, indeed callous and unconscionable act committed."
Singh said that act threw approximately 7,000 workers on the breadline and destroyed thousands of small and micro businesses connected to the sugar industry.
He reiterated the PPP/C's commitment to restructuring the industry, saying it would not focus on the sale of bulk sugar but examine opportunities in other areas such as packaged sugar.
Singh welcomed a report on the industry's closure by the University of Guyana's GREEN Institute's Thomas B Singh. He said that report offered some food for thought about how to rejuvenate Guyana's sugar industry and the government would examine its contents..
Thomas Singh suggested the report be used to help guide a national investment and diversification strategy for the industry. Against the background of recent energy discoveries in Guyana, he said revenues from Guyana's emerging energy sector could be used to support its agricultural sector, including the sugar industry.
He said after the closure of GuysSuco's estates, there was data to show increases in depression, alcoholism and crime in some of the communities which were serviced by these estates.
UN resident co-ordinator for Guyana Mikiko Tanaka said, "The sugar industry is a valuable part of the legacy and heritage of Guyana and is also a symbol of resilience of the painstaking labour of inter-generational dedication, sacrifices and courage over time."
As she observed the industry was a victim of commodity market fluctuations, Tanaka said the report "offers many lessons for policy-making, implementation and economic diversification and social services."
She said food systems are an area of economic transformation and the report could help to advise strategies in Guyana to achieve this objective.
Tanaka said the UN is committed to working with the Guyanese government to develop the country's food value chain "in a way that generate decent work and leaves no one behind."