Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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GuySuCo 2009
(Aired 14 May 2009)

   To comment on an organisation as complex as GuySuCo in one commentary of about two and a half pages and only 1500 words is difficult.

 

   I have written on GuySuCo on several occasions now, and I have never varied from my opinion that this Skeldon expansion will go down in our history as the biggest white elephant we ever saw in this country and that refusing to accept that the European Union's preferential price for our sugar will never be withdrawn was the most foolhardy act by any government anywhere, ever.

 

    People will say that Burnham's upper Mazaruni hydro project was a bigger white elephant but to this day I am convinced that the Jagans supported by money from the USSR sabotaged Burnham's hydro project and this country has never recovered from it. The sabotage by the PPP took the form of promoting and financing totally unnecessary strikes in the sugar industry, and paying rice farmers not to plant rice paddy using money donated from the USSR, which had a political interest in Guyana up to the time communism failed in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell. These are well known facts and I will waste no time defending it. So the sad financial situation we find ourselves in today is just as much Jagan's fault as it was Burnham's. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the PPP is trying to take away the workers rights to strike, which is ludicrous since it was this same striking which brought down Burnham. But Ladies and Gentlemen who would have believed it, the allegedly working class PPP passing laws making worker's protests illegal? I need not add that the PNC does not have any money to finance strikes in Guyana today so the strikes targeted today by the PPP's new law are not political but are expressions of legitimate concerns of the working people in this country.

 

  I never doubted for a minute that we could build a new factory at Skeldon, the principle being that once you have the money you contract someone to build it, now it is your choice which contractor you will retain to build it and if you choose a poor contractor you will have problems. Apparently not able to access funds from IDB which analysed the Skeldon project and deemed it as not feasible, especially in view of the withdrawal of the EU's preferential price, the PPP borrowed money from India and China and got the Chinese to build this new factory. Now the country is paying the price.

 

    Guyana has always been a difficult place to grow sugar cane, it is just too wet and the canes are too vegetative and therefore take a lot of tons of cane to make a ton of sugar more than anywhere else in the world. For centuries we have grown our cane on cambered beds which are approximately 36 feet wide and which has large drains running along the fields every 36 feet dividing the beds, the pictures here will show those who are not familiar with our field layout what I am saying, this layout was adopted for two reasons one is our high level of rainfall and two our low lying lands which have to drain when the tide is low, so these massive in-field drains act as reservoirs in between tides to hold water from the top of the beds so that they can be delivered to the kokers when they are opened at low tide each 10 acre field can carry more than 12,000 feet of such drains.  

 

  More than 80% of our industry still consist of these Cambered beds today and so mechanisation of our industry given these huge infield drains and our very wet climatic conditions is very difficult if not impossible.

 

   There was only one tractor which could ever cross these field drains it was invented by my father Mr. Joseph Vieira for which he held a British patent.

 

   But no cane harvesting combine ever built could ever cross these infield drains, when Guysuco announced in 1978 that they were closing the Versailles factory and that our cane and the cane of other farmers had to be taken to Uitvlught, I saw the writing on the wall for sugar cane at Versailles and I started to convert our cambered bed fields to flat fields to grow rice, it turned out to be more expensive than simply buying and planting new land and so we stopped it.

 
   Before I continue this commentary I have to say something and those who are listening to me and for whose cause I am speaking must understand that I am only as powerful as you make me.

 

   When I met the residents at Hope, Doch Four and Lowlands on the 28th April 2009 I said to them that I as a Parliamentarian am only as strong as their militancy will allow me to be, and therefore I was suggesting that 100-200 of them form a group of activists to protest this Hope Canal and picket the Ministry of Agriculture 20-30 of them at a time so that one man does not have to give up more than say one half day a week, but that they should do it on a continuous basis.

 

I told them that I was not in favour of thousands of people marching down from the village to Georgetown because that frightens their brothers both Indian and African alike but that small groups in protest if done consistently would be just as effective.

 

  I was told that if they were identified by the PPP that they would be victimised and therefore my suggestion of a small but sustained picketing exercise will probably not happen.

 

   On the drive down from Hope that night I reflected on the fact that these poor farmers at Doch Four, Lowlands Hope etc were afraid that they would be victimised if they spoke up for justice by conducting a peaceful picketing exercise; what they did not know was how I have been victimised since I began speaking for the afro and Mixed Guyanese in this country, who I genuinely believe are getting a raw deal; but who protects me from the PPP's victimisation? The calling of businesses to tell them that Vieira is too political that they should stop advertising with me; that if they continued to advertised with me their goods will get special attention at customs and that the tax man will look at their books very carefully that they should instead advertise with NCN, the Chronicle and channels 65, 69 etc. they took the Lotto draw away from me by giving Canadian Bank note special contracts, they took Trinity Broadcasting off the air and gave it to a bunch of dubious jacks who are playing videos which offend decency and should not be allowed to be broadcast, I note that the ACB has sanctioned Sharma but how come this other group is getting away with broadcasting the smut that they are broadcasting which are too sexually explicit for broadcast and in the US and are only allowed to be played on cable and not broadcast. This group which caters mainly to the afro Guyanese youth in this country are playing a very devious political game detrimental to the very racial group to which they cater. And by pursuing this channel 21 they have left thousands without a religious programme they were enjoying for seven years.

 

   This spitefulness from the PPP is why Stanley Ming is no longer with the PNC in Parliament, he is a business man and he was being mutilated economically by the PPP and the PNC could not do anything to help him, same as they can do nothing to help me and my financial situation is very fragile, there are too many TV stations on the air in this country with a very small advertising market and so it is very difficult to compete and our advertising rate has not changed significantly since 1992. So I kept asking myself all the way on the drive back to Georgetown why I am doing this and frankly ladies and gentlemen I could not find a logical answer. Despite public opinion I do not have a death wish. Nor am I a kamikaze businessman.

 

   Without your support and militancy this cannot continue and I am therefore looking for your support before I continue or I will stop, but be aware the Guyana parliament can do nothing to change your situation, it is a place where people make fine speeches but in the end it is a place where the PPP do what they want to do and frankly I am not prepared to continue to be a part of this charade of telling you what a vibrant and effective parliament we have when nothing can be further from the truth; if the supporters of the opposition parties in this country only pat me on the back and tell me what a wonderful job I am doing, without backing me up with the militancy I need to protect me from repercussions, I have to think of myself and my family and so this inaction on your part cannot continue.

 

   Last year GuySuCo made a G$6.31 billon loss. They produced a total of 226,267 tons the lowest production since 1991.

 

  You will hear the usual excuse that there is climate change that this is a situation beyond their control, this is all nonsense to hide their incompetence and the government is just as responsible for this mess as the managers of GuySuCo, in fact more so, the one thing that Harold Davis Sr. did as chairman of the sugar industry during the Burnham era was to keep government interference in the industry at a minimum, the recent chairmen of GuySuCo who were all political appointees were not capable of doing so and hence the collapse.

 

 GuySuCo no longer has the workforce to do the day to day jobs of husbandry and cane cutting at a reasonable cost which the industry needs to keep it viable and since this expansion of Skeldon started they have taken badly needed monies from the other estates to fund the expansion and the estates are beginning to show the signs of this neglect, there is flooding everywhere GuySuCo's own consultants told them recently [March2009] what I have been telling you all along, which is that the wet cycle we experienced in 1966 to 1976 is again upon us and that they are going to have to beef up their drainage systems especially at LBI, Albion, Enmore, Wales and especially Skeldon where the flooding was so severe that it completely destroyed 265 hectares of the expansion.

 

  There are shortages of all major chemicals to do the agronomic work in the industry, weed control chemicals; fertilizers insecticides etc. you name it and it is in short supply, pointing to serious cash flow problems in the industry, there is even evidence that GuySuCo had to borrow 52 tons of hydrated lime from Guyana Water Inc. to process the sugar because their supplies did not arrive until the crop was over towards the end of April. Only heavens know what GWI was using in the mean time to clarify/purify your potable water I guess that sugar production is more important that your health. GuySuCo has no money and are currently showing a deficit of 1.9 billion Guyana dollars in their books.

 

  I want to remind the public that we were promised by the government that by 2008 the industry would be producing 450,000 tons of sugar this means that even if we concede that Skeldon is not operational at this time, the Skeldon expansion was only supposed to bring in 110,000 tons of the total of 450,000 tons promised by 2008, so where may I ask is the other 340,000 tons we should be producing if our industry had kept on track with it's stated objectives? 

 

     I will go into more depth on the sugar industry's woes in a future comment. But as of now instead of 17 cents a pound to produce sugar in Guyana which the Guysuco Strategic plan promised will be our production cost in 2008, it was nearly 30 cents a pound last year nearly three times higher than the world market price at this time.

 

   Wave goodbye ladies and gentlemen the Guyana sugar industry is floating down the Demerara and Berbice rivers out to sea.