…urges citizens to look closer at privatisation driveBy Samuel SukhnandanWhile Government has made a commitment to keep the sugar industry alive, former Presidential Adviser and Economist Ramon Gaskin feels that the administration’s intention is to get rid of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), removing it from State ownership and privatizing the entire industry.The economist who was among the first to pronounce on the devastating effects of the downsizing of the industry will have on communities in the sugar belt, told Guyana Times on Sunday that he thinks this plan was properly planned and orchestrated by the coalition Government.Political commentator and economist, Ramon Gaskin“This year they are getting rid of four estates and it is my strong belief that next year they will get rid of the remaining three estates. And by the end of next year, the Government will have no business in the sugar business. The Guyana Government is coming out of sugar,” he posited.Government has repeatedly complained about bailing out GuySuCo by injecting $1 billion each month since assuming office, which they said had placed a significant burden on the treasury. They noted that, for too long, the sugar industry has also placed a heavy burden on the Consolidated Fund.Within 18 months of taking office, the Government had expended some $18 billion in subsidies to GuySuCo. By the end of 2017, it consumed some $18 billion more; notwithstanding the billions of dollars already subsidised by the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government over the years.Given these challenges, Gaskin said Government will most likely not achieve any substantial profits from the three remaining estates, which include: Uviulgt, Blairmont and Albion. “Three estates will be losses anyhow and the Government doesn’t want to pour money into GuySuCo losses,” he added.The Special Purpose Unit (SPU) of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited has been mandated to conduct evaluations, surveys and inventory assessments before any steps are taken to sell the Enmore, Skeldon and Rose hall estates. The SPU has since solicited the assistance of an international financial company to undertake these assessments as part of the plans to downsize the industry.Speaking about the economic and social effects the closure of all sugar estates will have on people working in the industry, Gaskin said that this will just add pressure to some of the communities across the sugar belt that experiences some level of social problems such as poverty.The former presidential adviser said the promise made by Cabinet that Government would ensure the best interests of the workers are upheld is nothing but sheer rhetoric and political propaganda. He urged onlookers to ignore the pretension and observe for themselves the reality of the situation.He said, “Right now there is a lot of poverty in the sugar belt, this will only multiply. The Government is hoping that when these new investors come and buy these places, they will probably come and employ some people. And the GAWU is hoping that things will improve. But it won’t be 17,000 jobs. And we see at Wales, nobody has offered to buy there and we don’t know what will happen there.”A Government plans start to take effect, the Opposition has been vigorously defending the rights of workers and has even urged Government to rethink its position. The PPP has also reminded that the Skeldon Sugar factory was built in order to keep the local sugar industry alive, but now the coalition Government plans to sell the factory, claiming that it has underperformed.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has outlined that in Guyana sugar is not a company, but an industry, hence Government needs to be more thoughtful when making decisions about the industry. He was quoted as saying, “No viable decision can be made without a feasibility study.” The PPP maintains that the decision to downsize the industry was purely based on politics.In May 2017, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.Later that year the GuySuCo announced plans to retrench thousands of workers, which it did. GAWU says the downsizing and subsequent closure of sugar estates would lead to the loss of more than 15,000 jobs, and the potential threat of poverty for 50,000 to 100,000 people.