Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, travelled to the West Bank Demerara community of Wales on Tuesday afternoon to make his support for the sugar workers known, following government’s announcement that it will be moving to close down the operations at the Wales estate.
The estate has been operating at a loss for several years.
Mr. Jagdeo met with scores of sugar workers who could soon find themselves on the breadline, and told them that the decision by the government is a callous one which is meant to affect supporters of the opposition, People’s Progressive Party. Jagdeo said the government should understand that the move will not only affect sugar workers but will have a domino effect in the Wales community.
“Sugar is import for Guyana, not for the PPP supporters alone and I’m sure you have heard that this is being done to hurt PPP supporters but it will not only affect our supporters. It will affect the taxi drivers, the vendors and all the people in this community”, Mr. Jagdeo said.
He said the opposition is completely against the move and intends to debate the decision by the government in parliament, adding that “we want a debate on sugar. We have been asking for a debate for several months and I personally want a debate in Parliament so you can see all the lies they have been telling. If we can’t have a debate in Parliament I challenge the government to come here and debate me in front of the people of Wales.”
Many of the sugar workers expressed their support for the position of Mr. Jagdeo and said the government must reverse the decision. They said their families could suffer terribly if they are unable to provide for them.
Mr. Jagdeo called for more support for the workers and said “if we take action together the government has to listen. It will listen and if they are pig headed we you have to be prepared to take action to protect your rights and livelihoods.”
During its time in office, the PPP had closed a number of sugar estates over the high maintenance costs.
The Government on Monday formally announced its intention close operations at the Wales Sugar Estate.
The administration said there will be no further land preparation and planting at the estate with immediate effect.
To this end, it has clarified that workers at Wales will be absorbed by Uitvlugt, up to the extent of suitable vacancies on that location.
Surplus labour will be made redundant.
The Government Information Agency (GINA) said the Wales Estate is by far the estate in the poorest shape with regards to drainage and irrigation, bridges, cultivation and factory operability.
The Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged the fact that the investment required to refurbish the Wales estate remains significant and said the finances are simply not available.
“Diverting funds from the other estates to keep Wales afloat would seriously jeopardize the future of these estates. This cannot be allowed to happen,” the GINA release noted.
The government concluded that it was impossible to make sugar production at Wales viable. “This is made worse by the gloomy outlook for sugar prices for the foreseeable future.
Wales estate is projected to make a loss of G$1.6 -$1.9 Billion in 2016. This coupled with the extent of refurbishment needed, rendered the estate prohibitively costly to maintain,” the release added.
The government explained that as the estate’s cultivation is harvested, the land would be retired and held for other diversification ventures. Additionally, the Wales factory would operate throughout 2016 milling both the estate’s and farmers’ canes.