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Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo yesterday said government had not properly informed workers of the impending closure of the Wales sugar estate even as he excoriated the PPP/C for peddling falsehoods and “political deception.”

Nagamootoo’s contribution to the debate on the 2016 National Budget was made in the absence of the opposition parliamentarians, who had walked out and were subsequently accused by him of “political cowardice.” Nagamootoo wasted no time in launching a counteroffensive to the accusations hurled by opposition parliamentarians prior, often lambasting the PPP/C record in government and making the case that they had little moral currency to expend.

After the government came under sustained attack over the closure of the Wales sugar estate on the West Demerara, Nagamootoo seemed to acknowledge that government could have done better in informing farmers.

“I still believe that efforts should be made to undo what had happened, that is that the workers were not told in a timely manner about the impending closure. I still believe that we need to have conversations with the workers and their families to explain what opportunities are opened up for them,” he said, while adding that the possibilities may be better.

“The agony of Wales’ workers is a genuine agony,” the PM said even as he recalled the closure of the Port Mourant estate in his younger day, which was “like the centre of our universe.”

However, according to him, he did not see the gloom for long and people later said it was a blessing in disguise because all operations were shifted to the modern Albion factory and sugar was produced at lower cost and greater efficiency meant greater rewards for the workers who remained. Further, he said, many of the workers made redundant and given severance pay, turned to “petite bourgeois” activities, such as shopkeepers and cattle rearers.

“Our… umbilical cord to the sugar factory and the sugar estate must not be considered as something that is unseverable because sometimes when some doors are closed, other opportunities are opened up,” he declared.

He said the “agony” is shared by many and efforts should be made to engage the workers.

Crocodile tears

However, Nagamootoo said he would not accept the crocodile tears of those who came and talked of the problems facing the Wales workers when members of the PPP/C colluded with certain elements in the community to take away the Belle Vue Cane Farmers Cooperative’s land and placed it in the hands of their friends. “They …said nothing when that happened under their watch,” he declared.

The PM also said that the government is not bound by everything the Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry says and the Board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) had come to a decision to close Wales on its own.

“We will not shut the door out, we are not bound by everything the commission of inquiry says, we had interrogated the commissioners and we want them to explain what are their findings and to rationalise their findings but as a government we are not bound by their recommendations,” he said.

“We cannot dictate to the board which is an independent and autonomous board, we cannot give political directives to the board if it says a certain operation should be rationalized,” the Prime Minister asserted.

“And that is why when the board said that they had made a certain decision, as a Cabinet we could take notice of that decision and we could approve or disapprove. In this case, we were convinced that there were good financial and economic sense to merge the operation of Wales with Uitvlugt because we believe that it had become a millstone on the neck of the sugar industry and if left to go unattended, it would pull the entire sugar industry down and all the workers would be affected,” he declared.

According to Nagamootoo, government understands what is happening and readily allocated $9 billion for GuySuCo this year and $12 billion last year. He quoted figures allocated by the PPP/C for the more recent years and said that they were tightfisted. “They are so…stingy that they were pinching the purse when it comes to the sugar workers,” he declared and accused Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo of misleading the House.

Wind power

Meantime, on the wind power project at Hope Beach, criticised by the opposition who said that power would be sold at a high cost and charged that the deal was not transparent, Nagamootoo pointed to a cabinet document signed by former Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon. The May 27, 2014 document approved the execution of a memorandum of understanding for the development of the Hope Beach Windfarm Project.

“The say that the investor was a coalition financier,” Nagamootoo said but pointed out that the investor in the document was identified as the Guyana Windfarms Inc and the director was Lloyd Singh. “So Mr Lloyd Singh could not have been the financier this year of the APNU+AFC when they had signed on to him,” he said, even as he read from the document and pointed out that the PPP/C Cabinet reviewed the financial arrangement and accepted the result of an environmental and social impact studies.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the PPP/C cabinet also approved NICIL being authorised on behalf of the Officer of the Prime Minister to negotiate with the company and draft all documents necessary to implement the project.

He said that the opposition said in the House yesterday that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project would have provided power at 11.5/10 cents per kilowatt hour but the agreement signed by then head of NICIL Winston Brassington said power would be sold to GPL by the windfarm at a price of 18 cents/kWh.

“They agreed to 18,” he declared. According to Nagamootoo, today, the offer being made for the provision of a similar arrangement would be “in the vicinity of 12 US cents per hour.”

“The 6 was for them,” Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan heckled.

Meanwhile, Nagamootoo said that the coalition never promised a 20% increase to workers as stated by the opposition. He quoted from the manifesto which said that the APNU+AFC government would “award a 10 % increase on the total Public Sector Wage, Salaries and Emoluments Bill and thereafter consult with their unions on the method of allocation of increases on the wage scales. This is in keeping with our new approach to industrial relations. It is expected that this could trigger a new era and further reforms in industrial relations in the public service.”

“We are delivering what we promised on,” Nagamootoo declared. He did not mention that in their 100 days plan, the coalition had promised “significant salary increases” for government workers.

Nagamootoo recalled that during huge public sector workers strikes in the late 1990s, Jagdeo had taken a position of a 4.5% increase for workers with no negotiation or arbitration.

“You can’t come and say that you want to pay public servants 50% (as called for by Jagdeo yesterday) upfront when your own records show that you had been adamant” and resisted any significant increase, Nagamootoo declared.

He charged that Jagdeo did not want the strike to end because he wanted to bring down then President Janet Jagan. “He allowed the strike to prolong to bring her down and she resigned,” Nagamootoo declared. After the resignation of Mrs Jagan in 1999, Jagdeo became president.

In terms of rice, Nagamootoo said that the PPP/C knew that the PetroCaribe deal, through which farmers got preferential prices from Venezuela for their rice, was coming to an end but did not inform farmers. He said that the government is trying to help the farmers but could only facilitate even as he pointed out that the sector is privately-run. “It goes beyond the remit of a government to decide that they would pay rice farmers for crops sold,” he said even though he noted that government has assisted in terms of the PetroCaribe deal.

Nagamootoo also said that there was no mention of any purchase price of $6,000 or $9,000 per bag of paddy from farmers in the APNU+AFC’s manifesto. The PPP parliamentarians were inventing numbers when the repeatedly cited this figure, he said and accused them of “political deception.”