February 19 ,2021
The GAWU saw the letter written by former President Donald Ramotar titled “Paradigm shifts needed in sugar industry to regain viability” which appeared in the February 16, 2021 Stabroek News. Some of what was said by the former president has merit. Indeed, like Ramotar, we are of the firm conviction that the sugar industry can be revitalized and made successful. Like Ramotar too, we share the view that sugar and sugar-related products should be among the industries that would exist alongside the oil industry to ensure a diversified and robust economy.
Ramotar pointed out that the industry needs experienced and capable persons at the helm. We cannot express any disagreement. Indeed, the industry has suffered a deficit of skills for some time. The situation became more acute over the last five (5) years when innumerable personnel were lost and square pegs were placed in round holes. Certainly, the former president must be aware of what took place, especially given his long-standing association with the sugar industry.
We are aware former sugar men and women, whether near or far, have deep interest in the industry and have been willing to lend their skills. At the same time, the industry needs to listen to its workers who also have valued and valuable institutional knowledge. We need, too, to develop a new cadre of sugar leaders. We believe we may require assistance from known successful sugar industry and states to assist the process. They may be aware of doing the tasks differently and more efficiently.
At the same time, we do not believe that the seeming denigration of the management will assist in turning the industry around. It may well do the opposite and demoralize further a weakened management. The GAWU itself has not shied away from expressing critical views of the management. While we contend that our criticisms were principled and with merit, at the same time, we do not believe in seeking to pull down managers. The lamentations of the former president has to be considered in tandem with the critical role he played as a director of GuySuCo for several years and later as president. Undoubtedly, we believe, he must have had several opportunities to address the shortcomings he pointed to.
The former president touted the idea of workers’ cooperatives to farm cane lands. This sounds on paper like an enticing idea. We believe that this is a concept that must be studied properly and thoroughly. We remind Ramotar that the industry has had cane farmers supplying canes to the factory prior to our Independence in 1966. Yet despite that lengthy period cane farming potential has not been fully exploited. There may be good reasons for this, and several factors may be at play. We do know now that the industry is having difficulty to attract and retain farmers and thus to transition workers, who lack the financial wherewithal when compared to farmers, could be a bit of a stretch. That is why we believe this notion of workers’ cooperatives must be carefully considered and not be rushed into no matter how much it glitters.
With cane farming largely outsourced, the former president asserted that management could have more time to concentrate on product diversification. The GAWU does not believe it is a case where the management is not knowledgeable of what could or should be done. Much of it has been known for some time now. Several studies have testified to this and Ramotar must be familiar with some of these during his time on the GuySuCo board. Certainly, we do not believe that GuySuCo knows of every possibility, but at the same time, they are very much acquainted with several important possibilities. What is needed now is the mechanism to transform them from concept to reality. There are several avenues which may require deeper examination.
Mr Ramotar reminds of the possibility of liquid fertilizers and bagasse briquettes which he mentioned were experimented with a few years ago. In terms of the liquid fertilizers, we are aware that they did not have the intended effect and had the probability of fertilizing more than the canes given their method of application. This is not to say we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, but signals the need for further investigation to determine whether other solutions are available. Maybe fertilizer cost could be reduced through local production when gas is piped to shore.
Regarding the bagasse briquettes it was indeed a novel idea at the time and held out some promise. However, it required an availability of sufficient quantities of bagasse which had been limited by cane supply. We do not recall the compression of garbage as a possibility, but we believe it would require separation of organic from inorganic materials. Moreover, uses of other biomass such as saw dust and paddy husks were experimented with at Skeldon and did not yield positive results.
The former president made mention of the purchase of machinery. We agree with him that those suitable and economical machines should be purchased. At the same time, we do not believe the industry should purchase the lowest cost machine if it cannot fulfill the objectives of the industry. The union of course is most interested in these matters as we indeed want to see the maximization of scarce resources in the interest of the industry, and more so, the workers.
We are aware of the government’s deep desire to turnaround the fortunes of the sugar industry and its strong commitment to getting the task realised. Clearly, given the administration’s high level of interest in the industry it certainly must be paying close attention to the unfolding situation. Undoubtedly, it will take appropriate actions if necessary. At the same time, our union continues to closely pay attention to the happenings in the industry. We have a vested interest and we have seen the hardships spawned by the reckless policies of the Coalition. It is with this in mind that we will continue to do our utmost in seeking to ensure that the industry remains on the right track.