THE CLOSURE OF WALES ESTATE


It is only after the magnitude of the potential disaster became apparent to the public that the Government began to scramble for a plan to protect workers of Wales Estate and farmers who supply cane. The closure of Wales Sugar Estate would impoverish the 1,700 workers and their families, cane farmers and their families and all others who are sustained by the existence of Wales Estate. The Government’s plan, announced in bits and pieces and later advertised in the media, is likely to fizzle as rapidly as it was hastily concocted. Offering some workers jobs at Uitvlugt and the vague notion of a waterway to transport farmers’ canes are not enough.

Unless serious and constructive ideas are put together and adopted, unemployment and poverty would devastate the Wales and Canal No. 2 communities and adversely affect the economy of Region 3. This impending disaster and its horrific social consequences could and should be averted.

The Government has said that the Estate will lose in the vicinity of $1.6 to $1.9 billion dollars this year while Guysuco as a whole will require a subsidy of $12 billion dollars. Guysuco is in overall debt of $78 billion. In these circumstances the President of GAWU, Komal Chand, and the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, see sinister plots and argue that the Wales Estate should remain open for the purpose of providing employment to workers who are from the Wales and Canal No. 2 communities and cane farmers from both Canal Nos. 1 and 2. Mr. Komal Chand accused the Government of having a secret deal to sell Wales Estate. Mr. Jagdeo claimed that political discrimination against PPP supporters was the real motive for the closure.

Finally revealing his own plan on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Jagdeo urged, and offered his support for, negotiation for a US$50 million line of credit from the Government of India to refurbish sugar factories. But the Wales factory, one hundred years old, appears to be beyond refurbishment. Mr. Jagdeo also suggested a debt for equity swap with the Government. It is not quite clear how this would work. The debt proposed to be swapped with the Government is Government debt. But Government already owns all of Guysuco’s equity. Apart from these proposals making little sense for Wales, or at all, no one should give credibility to the plans of those who ruined the sugar industry, threatened to derecognize GAWU when workers expressed dissatisfaction, and are now crying crocodile tears for sugar workers.

Ten to fifteen years ago when sugar was in far better shape and the high prices and quotas being offered by Europe were known to be on the way out, there was talk about ‘rationalization’ of the sugar industry to reduce cost of production to the world market price and to make it profitable. The Skeldon Sugar Factory, the Enmore Packaging Plant and the closures of L.B.I and Diamond were decisions emerging from that period.

Part of the proposed rationalization process was the closure of the unproductive Demerara estates with Wales being among the first in line.  The inability of then President Jagdeo to ‘sell’ this aspect of the rationalization plan to GAWU and sugar workers, resulted in the closure of only the smaller L.B.I. and Diamond Estates. The workers, like those of Wales, were offered no help or serious alternatives, apart from their severance pay. Now, of course, it is hoped by the Opposition that the Jagdeo Government’s abandonment of the L.B.I. and Diamond workers will be forgotten and as much political mileage as possible will be made about Wales.

The Government’s prime consideration in closing Wales Estate, if they are determined to do so, should be, or should have been, the welfare of the workers, cane farmers and their families and the wider impact as described above. It ought first to have devised a serious, credible and workable set of proposals, not the hastily cobbled together ‘plans’ that have been announced, to sustain the employment of workers and assist farmers to convert to other crops, if necessary, with the long term future of the communities in mind. Then it ought to have consulted with the workers and their representatives. If the plan had merit there was no reason why they would not have agreed. Only then should an announcement have been made. If the Government now needs time to devise such a plan, it should withdraw the proposed closure until it does.

Serious study would have to be undertaken as to the potential of Wales Estate and there is time to do so. The Estate can be sold for conversion into production of another crop. Alternatively the land could be divided among workers, either individually or through co-operatives for farming purposes. Experts may be able to find other investment possibilities. These are possible. In an advertisement in Stabroek News of January 22 the Government said: “Harvested land would be retired and held for diversification purposes.” This land should be given, rented or sold on generous and affordable terms to workers. Unless the Government evolves a rational plan, the thousands of people who will be affected will not forget it, as they watch their children growing without a future and unemployment, poverty, crime and suicides escalate.

9 thoughts on “THE CLOSURE OF WALES ESTATE

  1. Endorse the suggestion of “people” consultation prior to
    closure goes without saying. Where is the minister of agricultures comments/ideas. ???
    Here is an example of political/economic incompetence/inconsideration of workers rights.
    If no alternatives can be formulated for these 1700+ workers
    then it is only fair that they be compensated for loss of job
    or alternative employment found.,.as a last resort relocation
    if necessary.
    This is a test case and challenge for new kids on the block….it would be interesting what their decision will
    be…….please update us on the final nail in coffin of these
    cane cutters and their families.
    Wonder how these voted in may…..?? and hope the decision
    is not based on this fact.

    My heart goes out to these families and their communities.
    Guysuco will have blood on their hands if no decision or wrong decision of the future of this estate is made.
    Sad if that is allowed to happen.

    Hope the right solution is found asap.

    We shall soon find out.

    Kamtan

  2. This would be a disaster. Despite the commission report of no closure of any estates. The coalition government is bent to destroy the livelihood of the people of Wales and surrounding areas. Why did the APNU/ AFC coalition had the commission to look into the feasibility of sugar and ignore their recommendations?

    • ‘The livelihood of the people of Wales’; have already been set on the path of destruction by the mismanagement/corruption of the former PPP administrations., the 23 years PPP’s mal administration – made the sugar industry bankrupt, beggarly, and ‘a bottomless pit’, which, billions of tax/Vat payers dollars are annually pumped into to keep it afloat.

      Now, Jagdeo, Rohee, and others, are hypocritically ‘crying crocodile tears’, and staging ‘picketing’ and ‘protests’, again – using and abusing sugar workers for their (PPP leaders), narrow power grabbing interests.

      Ironically, the former PPP’s Agriculture minister/administration – got rid of the machines which were intended for mechanized cane harvesting.

      Decades ago, calls were made to diversify, privatize, and mechanize cane harvesting, to help make the sugar industry sustainable., however, PPP leaders put their narrow political interests in front of sugar workers and the sugar industry., the result is the ‘bottomless pit’ – of a PPP/GAWU’s bankrupted and beggarly sugar industry!

      • I’m aware of the corruption and the accountability issues of the PPP/C. I know how and when Ramsammy got rid of the machines when we had shortage of cane cutters, however, the PPP is history. Jagdeo with Zuffi Mustafa got rid of the local groups. I’m originally from Letter Kenny Village/ Port Mourant and I saw that there were none PPP infrastructures from Whim to Albion. I met Zuffi many times when I took 300,000 books, computers and hundred of boxes of toys and other learning materials for several nursery schools, high schools and UGBC Tain Campus.
        My point is forget the PPP. Let us do something to make the APNU/AFC coalition govern for all the people. Jagdeo cannot bring back the PPP to power again. The race politics is gone.
        Wales is PPP stronghold. How does it perceive by the diaspora? I can tell you very disgusting. These coalition are behaving like Burnham did.
        To let the workers @ Wales know of the closure of the estate by the media is unthinkable and nasty; disrespectful, They should think of the families and take care of the crimes. Maybe they should consider banning guns like Burnham did in the 60s.

        • Having read all the above one question bugs me !
          Where is the minister responsible ?
          In hiding behind a”biased” media.

          Where is the consultation in all this.
          Surely before decisions are made that would affect
          the lives of so many workers and their families the
          minister should be present to listen to the concerns
          of the people. If necessary appoint a senior representative
          or CEO of guysco as consultant with responsibility to
          come up with proposals on way forward.
          The decision to “close or not” will be the CEO of guysco
          in consultation with the minister…..the buck stops there.

          It is disgraceful that the decision will be made by announcement via local rabble..(dailies) without some
          form of prior consultation…..at the decision making
          level. Shameful ….arrogance of power ? or just “don’t care a damn a run ded already” attitude by the powers that be.

          Its simple
          CEO decides to close or not with consultation of unions.
          Minister decides if it is. “right or wrong” decision.
          Buck stops there.
          If minister accepts decision of guysco and he is later
          proved wrong to do so……the PM demotes him to back
          benches in parliament.
          Democracy in practice.

          A week month year is a long time in politricks….5 years
          a ” lifetime” to turn things around. Change.

  3. Sugar has been blamed for causing diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems so the demand for sugar has been decreasing. There are many low/no calories sugar substitutes (sweeteners) which are displacing sugar. One solution for decreasing sugar demand is to convert sugar production to ethanol (alcohol) production for use as a fuel for automobiles. Brazil has done this successfully and now runs almost entirely on ethanol. Many countries also blend ethanol with gasoline for automobile fuel.
    The Wales factory should be converted for ethanol production. We can learn from the Brazilians and the Americans who use corn as the feed stock. Conversion will provide continuing employment for displaced workers and reuse of the land, punts and canals. It is futile to keep an obsolete plant in operation in an era of falling sugar demand. The same comments apply to other money losing sugar estates.

  4. I wish I had the answer to the Wales problem but what I do know is that the leaders in Guyana must stop thinking about ways of enhancing production in the fields of bauxite, rice and sugar as there are all areas in which the rest of the world, their clients, are reducing usage, and start thinking, as other world entities have done over the years, of developing other usages for existing factories and lands.

    This, of course, should be a phased process with definite start and end dates allowing sufficient time for workers to come to grips with the fact that changes are coming and for them to decide on their future – moving on to other pastures or undergoing training in preparation for work in whatever new areas are to be developed.

    All planning should be with the involvement of workers, their representatives, unions and NGOs in discussions with the government of the day on the way forward.

    Now is the time for the government to reconsider (plan carefully) and to, for the present, save the Wales estate and by extension jobs for the people of the affected areas.

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