…says new Board not competent enough to turn industry aroundLocal economist and outspoken commentator Ramon Gaskin has called for the Government to utilize the lands of the closed sugar estates to create new industrial jobs, which can boost the country’s overall development while improving the economic situation in the surrounding estates.Economist Ramon GaskinHe said this can be done, even as he opined that the current GuySuCo Board, headed by Colvin Heath-London, cannot solve any the problems facing the industry because most, if not all, of the members of the new board do not possess the capacity to develop strategic interventions for something as technical as sugar.“First and foremost, they don’t have any idea what to do with those peoples (sugar workers). They are just trying to sell the assets of that place. They don’t know what to do with people, and how to create alternative employment or economic activity for those communities,” he opined.Gaskin, who has been privy to the names of members of the new GuySuCo Board, told Guyana Times on Sunday, “This new board doesn’t have a single new idea of what could be done with those people. They don’t have the background, the training, the skills, the intellect, the ability to come up with ideas and solutions.”The economist claimed that the subsidy of $1billion to help bail out GuySuCo each month could have been better utilized in such a way that alternative jobs were created two to three years before the downsizing was implemented.“Over $40 billion was wasted. A lot could have been done to employ those people. And not a single idea has come from the Government, the Opposition or the Union,” he added.Government’s decision to downsize the sugar industry has not gone down well with a majority of the Guyanese population, especially those who are directly, or in some way or the other, linked to the industry.“Government is now in the process is getting rid of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) as a state- owned company that is costing the treasury a lot of money. That is what is happening,” Gaskin opined.From an economic standpoint, he told Guyana Times, while it was wasteful to pump subsidies of $1 billion into the sugar industry, one of the biggest blunders made by the coalition Government is the manner in which they went about closing the industry.“There are so many workers involved, so many communities, families; there had to have been greater planning and alternative jobs for those people,” he stated.Gaskin continued, “And that has not been done. The decision has been taken to get rid of GuySuCo, but no plan has been made so far to deal with the workers and the communities and their families. That’s the big problem we are faced with now as a country. It is my opinion that some estates can’t make it, but this does not mean that alternative things cannot be done to keep the workers gainfully employed.”ForgottenThe Government, according to him, has failed in that regard. In Berbice, there is a reasonable chance that the estate could break even because of the sale of the energy to the power grid, he said.Gaskin is of the firm view that people have been abandoned by the Government and all those involved in the sugar industry.Asked what approach he would have taken had he any influence on decision-making, the economist said he would have started with working to make each estate an industrialized company.“My own approach would be to start with one estate at a time, start with Wales and then go down. Wales cannot produce sugar, but there is nothing preventing Wales from becoming an industrial estate the way we have Ruimveldt. We can do small things like furniture making and other industrial jobs,” he stated.While the Government is looking to provide lands for these fired workers, Gaskin is of the view that while this may be a good move to some extent, this is yet another idea that hasn’t been well thought out.He said, “There is nothing stopping sugar workers from operating in an industrial company. And there is this idea that we give farmers land and they should automatically become a farmer. All of this is unnecessary. They have to do aquaculture and give them other industrial-related jobs and opportunities.”As the downsizing of the sugar industry continues to take a grip on communities in the sugar belt, there are now more cries about fired sugar workers finding it hard to get employment. Many men are also finding it hard to provide for their families, especially for their school-age children.Last year, GuySuCo dismissed thousands of workers. So far, some 4000-plus workers have been sent home. 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.