Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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European Development Fund
(Aired 30 May 2011)

   For nearly several years now I have been objecting to the way the 9th and now the 10th European Union Development Funds [EDFs] are being disbursed in this country.

   I will start this commentary tonight by saying that I get really frustrated when I see our Minister of Agriculture forming the National cane farming committee in his office, today. It's like the sugar workers meeting in his office to form the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union, when put this way it would be ridiculous, but since the Cane farmers today are very likely to be at loggerheads with their manufacturer, GuySuCo, a state owned entity, which is the responsibility of this same Minister Robert Persaud, it is a conflict of interest for him to do so. My reason for saying this stems from the fact that the legislation entitled National Cane Farming Committee Act 1965 describes how the Cane Farmers' committees will be formed by the Minster in this country; now remember that this legislation was made at a time when the government was not the owners of the sugar factories, so having the minister on the farmers' side at that time in 1965 which describes how the cane farming committee should be selected was an asset, since he could help them represent their issues to the manufacturers mostly Bookers and Sambatch Parker in those days; but since nationalisation of the sugar industry in 1976 it has become counterproductive to select the committees this way, so the 1965 act has become a liability to the farmers and a conflict of interest to the Minister, since the government is now the sole owners of all the factories i.e. the manufacturer. Which leads me to say again that Robert Persaud forming the national cane farming committee now, under the provisions of the obsolete 1965 Act, is really unacceptable. And since the farmers are unaware of the change in the situation since nationalisation, they accept in good faith that what he is doing is the law.

   After nationalisation the formation of our national cane farming committee was not supposed to be conducted quite the way outlined in the 1965 act, since it should now be a body formed by the cane farmers themselves from the various District Associations, the farmers in each district should form themselves into an association which will meet as necessary to decide what their grievances are with the manufacturer i.e. GuySuCo and by extension Minister Persaud. The four Districts which I have in mind are East Barbice, West Berbice, East Demerara and West Demerara; i.e Regions 3,4,5 and 6 which now conforms more to the regional system formed after 1965, these associations should then appoint representatives comprised members from the four regions to form a national Cane farming Committee which will take up the grievances of their members directly with GuySuCo and the minister whenever the terms and conditions of the contract they have with the manufacturer is not met, such as paying late, not lifting their cane expeditiously, not giving them the right weight or TC/TS and therefore not paying the amount that they deserve and in addition not giving them credit for fertilizers, insecticides, weedicides etc. as is written in the original law/contract.

   Since the cane farming contract is embedded as a law in this country along with the cane farming act, the following letter from Mr. Earl John formally an executive Director of GuySuCo which was published in the Kaiteur News a few weeks ago speaks for itself and I will quote it tonight since it is important "Dear Editor,  The following is by no means intended to be a criticism, but more so a reminder to all the stakeholders involved in the cane farming component of the sugar industry, that there is legislation known as the National Cane Farming Committee Act, 1965. The regulations to the Act include a contract that is legally binding between manufacturer (the sugar estate) and farmer. It is called: Cane Farmers Contract (General Conditions) Rules.

It is quite a comprehensive description of the relationship that must be observed by the two parties, including a formula for pricing cane.

There is also a relevant Cane Farmers Special Funds Act. The National Cane Farming Committee Act also provides for the establishment and functioning of a National Cane Farming Committee whose membership must constitute the industry's representatives and those of farmers – from the respective District Associations, as also provided for.

One does not get the impression from Wednesday's report of ‘private sugar cane farmers' meeting with the Minister of Agriculture and GuySuCo's Chief Executive, that any reference was made to the legal status and obligations (financial and material) as required by the legislation, between GuySuCo and farmers on individual estates. Usually overlooked are farmers at Plaisance, Beterverwagting and Buxton. End quote.

  Since nationalisation the farmers in this country have not been fairly treated, the first major transgression was with regards to the local subsidy of sugar which they had to pay from their share of the selling price of sugar, then there was the closure of several factories with which they had contracts and the contracts were simply terminated by GuySuCo, without compensation or proper notice; I know of this first hand since on instruction of GuySuCo I was instructed, as manager of GuySuCo's factory at Versailles, by the Chairman of GuySuCo during the first crop of 1978 to close the Versailles Factory; since from the second crop of that same year less than 4 months' notice farmers will be required to take their canes to Leonora and to Wales, no compensation was offered. Recently the LBI factory was closed and I am not aware that any cane farmer was told in advance that they must now deliver their cane to Enmore I am not even sure that some of these farmers can deliver cane to Enmore factory due to infrastructural difficulties, raising the question what has happened to the nearly 400 factory/clerical workers of LBI Factory. Have they been severed? Relocated? What? I have never said that privatisation is the only action which would help GuySuCo to maintain viability in our sugar industry over time, I see that Mr. Granger is being crucified in the newspaper for saying this, but the government as owners are closing factories without notice or compensation and I really don't see any private owners being allowed doing so with impunity, they are not even releasing the information to the public, FITUG knows about this since GAWU must know about it. I am not saying that privatisation is the answer, I am saying that the highly respected Dr. Clive Thomas has suggested it as an alternative, and I am simply asking FITUG to make a legitimate recommendation of an alternative to correct what is going on at GuySuCo now, since clearly GuySuCO cannot run this industry today and are wasting good money trying to salvage badly spent money, I am also asking them why they have said nothing about the closure of the LBI Factory and the loss of nearly 400 jobs.

   This brings me to today and why I wrote this commentary, in the Kaiteur newspaper of Sunday May 8th 2011 captioned under "EU ready to kick off 51 Euros million Programme with Guyana" is a story which describes a presentation ceremony at which the local European Union Ambassador Mr. Geert Heikens unveiled part of the 10th European Development Fund. This fund was established by the European Union, to buffer the effects of the loss of the EU preferential prices for sugar, the EU has volunteered millions of Euros to the various African, Caribbean and Pacific [ACP] countries affected by the withdrawal of this subsidy to help offset the loss of the EU preferential price and to help the sugar producers affected, retool and make themselves more competitive, but in Guyana according to the Kaiteur news report  it will be spent on projects such as sea defences and low income housing projects. Ladies and Gentlemen we are spending this money on low income housing and sea defences?  This money is supposed to be spent on the sugar Industry to make it more competitive or to compensate those who have had to stop growing sugar cane due to it becoming uneconomical after the removal of the preferential price.

    If this is the case, and I have no doubt that it is, since it is what Trinidad is doing, it is only Guyana, where all of the sugar factories are owned by the Government and therefore we have no private manufacturers, where the government is putting all of this money in their pockets. If we had private manufacturers this matter would have already surfaced in our courts since no private manufacturer with resources would have allowed this nonsense to pass; but why are we totally forgetting that the canes which comprise 8% of our total annual sugar production, comes from our poor pheasant cane farmers? [The 8% figure comes from GuySuCo's 2009 Annual Report]

 At this time according to the Kaiteur news this country has already received 90 million Euros and now it is getting another 75 million Euros! I am using the Kaiteur news numbers here so any problems with them please take it up with Mr. Lall. That is 165 million Euros! According to my thinking and this is supported by informal conversations with members of the EU, the farmers in this country are entitled to their share of this compensation since their income has been reduced by the lower prices now applicable to the industry.  Even those farmers, who no longer grow sugar cane, as happened in Trinidad, should be given their share of this compensation since it will help them to retool for whatever else they have had to switch to due to cane farming becoming uneconomical because of the loss of the EU subsidy.

   Therefore according to my calculations the cane farmers in this country are supposed to receive their share of this 165 million Euros based on 70% [the cane farmers share] of the 8% of our total production of sugar, now 8% of 165 million Euros is 13.2 Million Euros, which is G$3.8 billion. 70% of this amount is G$2.66 billion. This money is legitimately owed to these farmers and to deprive them of it especially since they are mostly PPP supporters in this election year is total eye pass. To offer them as Persaud did recently a G$5000 raise per ton sugar, is an insult. This is the second comment I have written on this Minister since I have returned, I have nothing against Robert Persaud we still speak cordially when we meet, but this is just not acceptable, and this is my special area of knowledge.

   The EU has an obligation to see that this money is dispersed in a manner consistent with the reason it was allocated in the first place, I know that the EU doesnt like to get involved; but in countries like Guyana where the government always seem to do the wrong thing, since they have the power to do it, the EU Ambassador Mr. Geert Heikens should be aware that the government seem to have no interest whatsoever in giving the poor Guyana cane farmers their share of this money! G$2.66 billion is a lot of money and they deserve it and it will help them to be better producers. There is also an excellent opportunity here for the cane farmers to take this matter to court as a class action suit against the government and demand the money there.