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Serious rebuttals of Mr. Lincoln Lewis’s misleading representations and propagation of a rumour (Part…

first_imgDear Editor,I beg your indulgence to publish my response to the “Eyes on Guyana” column of Mr Lincoln Lewis, appearing in the Kaieteur News of Sunday, October 07th, 2018 under the title, “Serious Questions about Sam Hinds ‘moral authority’ in call for equal treatment for sugar and bauxite workers.”Editor, one should expect, and even welcome, serious questioning of what he presents; and I do. I am heartened that Mr Lewis is not rejecting my call for equal treatment for sugar and bauxite workers, but his representations are seriously distorted and misleading, and he has knowingly or unknowingly propagated and hence sustained one seriously poisonous, divisive, untrue rumour.Editor, when I read that the Cabinet-led Task Force — of which Mr Lincoln Lewis was a member — had recommended that these Rusal workers facing termination be paid a package similar to what was applied in the case of Linmine in 1993 onwards and Bermine in 2002 onwards, I had thought and hoped that we were rounding a corner; for by evidently acknowledging and taking our (PPP/C) arrangements for bauxite workers during those difficult years as a standard, I was thinking that there was the beginning of a recognition that we had not been the problem for the bauxite companies, workers and communities. Indeed, it seemed that the door was being opened to the thinking that we had been good for the bauxite companies, workers, and communities. However, I will not let this Lincoln Lewis column dash my hopes.Editor, we, PPP/C, were always conscious of the need to treat our bauxite and sugar workers equally, if not equitably. As we, PPP/C, came into office in 1992, our bauxite and sugar sectors were in quite different economic situations, and with very different prospects. Bauxite, having suffered huge losses since the mid-1970s, there were grave doubts whether it could be profitable again and survive; but sugar was returning to profitability, and its prospects looked bright, admittedly on the then seemingly unending guarantee of the preferential prices of the Sugar Protocol.In those instances referred to by Mr. Lewis, where the bauxite sector was treated differently from the sugar sector, bauxite workers were treated better than what was specified by the various ‘conditionalities’ we, PPP/C, met in place. Rather than close down Linmine on that MINPROC declaration in 1994 as prescribed, we resumed and maintained subsidies until interested core partners came along. And much the same happened with the bauxite operations on the Berbice River. That is another story. The eventual privatisation of the bauxite companies was better than the previously prescribed alternative, which would have seen them closed down forthwith.Concerning the continued waiver of income tax on overtime work in the case of sugar workers, it is true, but sugar workers would readily give up that incentive for the higher wage rates bauxite workers received before, and more so since privatisation. (Sugar workers have been complaining about a number of constrictions in the application of this waiver to them). That notwithstanding, it may be recalled that the Structural Adjustment/Economic Recovery Programme entered into by then President Hoyte included reforms aimed at reducing, if not eliminating, special and unique situations and the discretion of a President or a Finance Minister to grant financial incentives. The waiver of income tax on the overtime pay of bauxite and sugar workers, and those workers only, stood out like a sore thumb. The waiver of income tax on overtime work is an incentive to both the enterprise and the worker. Many argued that that incentive was on challengeable legal and socio-political grounds. It was largely excused on arguing that Government was under pressure to incentivise the workers in these two most important state owned industries by finding one way or another to increase their after-tax take-home pay. We were uneasy with this waiver, and anticipated its ending on the occasion of privatisation or on significant upward movement of wage scales in the sector. There was no targeting of bauxite workers in this.There is absolutely no truth in Mr Lewis’s claim that a steam turbine was removed from the bauxite operations. Mr Lewis and others are invited to visit the steam power station, now derelict, and see for themselves that the three turbines that were there are still there. I call on him to show where, in any so-called PPP stronghold, the steam turbine is/was set-up. Further, even if it had been so, Mr Lewis should know that GPL electricity supply grid is such that it could not supply that electricity to only that stronghold. Indeed, we PPP/C, see our electricity grid and supply (GPL) as one of the integrating mechanisms of our people and country.To be frank and for full disclosure, I will say that some parts from one of a number of discarded GM diesel sets in the diesel power station by the Mackenzie bridge were taken to help rehab a similar engine in GPL’s small diesel power station at Onverwagt. It would have helped supply electricity to Bush Lot, but also to Lichfield and Hopetown, all on the West Coast of Berbice; and what, Mr Lewis, could have been wrong with that? One can suspect that this could have been jazzed up to give birth to that rumour. Whatever the case, Mr Lewis is here knowingly or unknowingly repeating and sustaining a seriously poisonous, divisive, untrue rumour, which as a recognised elder, looked up to by a significant number of our fellow Guyanese, is to be greatly regretted.There was no plundering of the equipment of the bauxite industry. Indeed, even though it would have made good economic sense, it was to avoid such charges of plundering that I did not entertain the offer from a scrap metal business from Singapore to purchase the alumina plant: “Liquify your sunk, frozen, discarded, useless asset” the lady from Singapore urged from across my desk.An approach from our local firm Wieting and Richter, as agent for a corresponding German environmental firm, to remove all installations and hazardous waste, and present a certified environmentally clean site, along with a small net amount of money, was also not entertained.Mr Lewis wrote, “By the time the PPP/C had done its target on the [bauxite] industry, 4000+ workers were dislocated… The PPP/C did not initiate the downsizing of the bauxite industry. Mr Lewis would know that that sad and traumatic transformation in coming to terms with reality began with the shock of that first big shrinking of about one third, some 1800 employees, in 1983 and the prescribed transfer of all non-core activities to various levels of Government and their agencies. This transformation was well on its way by the time MINPROC took management of the core operation in 1990, and the number of employees would have been further shrunk by the time we, PPP/C, entered Office in October, 1992. As has been stated on many occasions when MINPROC declared that they could not see a way to profitability for the bauxite operations in Linden, the prescription we had received called for closure forthwith. We did no such thing. (To be continued)Sincerely,Samuel A A Hinds,Former PrimeMinister, FormerPresidentlast_img read more