Ber­bice must jump out of its ‘com­fort zone’ in con­tem­plat­ing life be­yond sugar - Gaskin

Stabroek News - - BUSI­NESS -

ev­i­dent. Ber­bice farm­ers with whom this news­pa­per spoke say they are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a loss of in­come aris­ing out of what is be­lieved to be a dis­cern­able shift in spend­ing pat­terns among wage earn­ers ahead of the an­tic­i­pated clo­sure of sugar es­tates.

As we re­ported over the past two weeks com­mu­nity in­ter­est is fo­cused on the Ber­bice es­tates, in­clud­ing the re­ported in­ter­est of one of the re­gion’s more prom­i­nent busi­nesses houses, Nand Per­saud and Com­pany, in ac­quir­ing the Skel­don Es­tate. Here, the con­cern ap­pears to be with whether or not the ac­qui­si­tion deal will fruc­tify and whether plans for Skel­don be­yond its divest­ment will em­brace job re­ten­tion or even a rise in em­ploy­ment lev­els.

The Cen­tral Coren­tyne Cham­ber Pres­i­dent wants the is­sue of Ber­bice be­yond sugar to be­come one for ur­gent na­tional dis­course that will lead to con­crete plans fo­cused on the cre­ation of al­ter­na­tives. His con­cerns re­volve around the pos­si­ble dis­fig­ure­ment that busi­nesses in the com­mu­nity are likely to suf­fer as a re­sult of the re­duced pa­tron­age that will re­sult from sig­nif­i­cant loss of jobs as well as the so­cial con­se­quences that could de­rive from high un­em­ploy­ment. It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to shift the minds of the busi­ness com­mu­nity from these themes at this time.

If it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the ex­tent to which his pre­sen­ta­tion at last Fri­day’s open­ing of the 2017 Ber­bice Expo and Trade Fair may have en­gen­dered an en­hanced level of op­ti­mism, Gaskin used his ad­dress to seek to fo­cus on two themes, first, the need for Ber­bice to bite the bul­let in re­la­tion to the fu­ture of sugar and se­condly for the com­mu­nity, busi­nesses and paid labour, to buy into the fo­cus of a plan be­yond sugar.

In the for­mer re­gard the Busi­ness Min­is­ter told his au­di­ence last Fri­day that while there are dif­fer­ent views re­gard­ing the fu­ture of GuySuCo few peo­ple if any ques­tion the view that “GuySuCo in its cur­rent con­struct places a bur­den on the trea­sury that the coun­try can­not af­ford. Some ac­tion has to be taken to bring an end to this huge an­nual sub­sidy that tax­pay­ers are be­ing asked to fund,” he said.

Whether or not his ar­gu­ment about the like­li­hood that more could have been done for Ber­bice if gov­ern­ment did not have to bear the con­sid­er­able cost of sub­si­diz­ing the sur­vival of the sugar in­dus­try over sev­eral years has se­cured much trac­tion with Ber­bi­cians given the im­me­di­acy of the con­cerns as­so­ci­ated with the loss of jobs and in­come and the over­all eco­nomic im­pact of these on the com­mu­nity in the pe­riod ahead, is how­ever, dif­fi­cult to say.

Clearly fo­cused on al­lay­ing fears in Ber­bice as the clo­sure – or rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion - of GuySuCo draws closer, Gaskin told Ber­bi­cians that “gov­ern­ment will not take ac­tion that will harm the econ­omy of Re­gion Six and cause suf­fer­ing to the peo­ple of this re­gion.” Ar­gu­ing that “There has to be a tran­si­tion (from sugar) if we are to re­duce our de­pen­dence on an in­dus­try that is not pro­duc­ing, not per­form­ing and not de­liv­er­ing,” he promised a tran­si­tion that will see “new op­por­tu­ni­ties… “and there­fore need not be feared.”

Some of gov­ern­ment’s think­ing on the Ber­bice econ­omy be­yond sugar may well have been re­flected in some of what Gaskin had to say last Fri­day. He ap­peared to be tar­get­ing Ber­bi­cians di­rectly on the need to strike a trans­for­ma­tional pos­ture when con­tem­plat­ing an eco­nomic fu­ture be­yond sugar by urg­ing that we jump out of our “com­fort zones.” He spoke to Ber­bice farm­ers, one of the groups that will be sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected once GuySuCo closes, al­lud­ing to the virtues of “in­no­va­tion and the uti­liza­tion of sci­en­tif­i­cally and tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced meth­ods of pro­duc­tion in every sec­tor…….. as part of our de­vel­op­ment strat­egy,” go­ing for­ward. Here, Gaskin ap­peared to be point­ing to the like­li­hood of an up­grad­ing in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween gov­ern­ment and the agri­cul­tural sec­tor in Ber­bice that could see new forms of tech­ni­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion and sci­en­tific sup­port aimed at fur­ther en­hanc­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the Re­gion Six agri­cul­tural sec­tor and its ex­pan­sion to of­fer more in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to Ber­bi­cians.

The con­cerns, how­ever, re­main pal­pa­ble and even after Gaskin’s de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to strike an up­beat pos­ture of life after sugar, the Ber­bice busi­ness com­mu­nity ap­pears to be will­ing the has­ten­ing of se­ri­ous and struc­tured talks with gov­ern­ment to dis­cuss the way for­ward. As far as the Cen­tral Coren­tyne Cham­ber Pres­i­dent is con­cerned, the sooner, the bet­ter.

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