Government committed to finding a solution By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
May 25, 2002

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THE Government yesterday made it clear that it will not leave any stone unturned in resolving the situation in the crisis-hit bauxite industry and has urged the bauxite communities in Region Ten to have patience.

The National Assembly has acknowledged, by way of a motion carried in the House yesterday, “the genuine efforts by the Government to deal with the chronic problems of the bauxite sector and its various specific manifestations, including the current situation of the Berbice Mining Company and Kwakwani in today’s depressed bauxite markets”.

The main Opposition People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) was absent from the House, as it continues its “active non-cooperation” stance with the Government.

The Government has said that it is continuing to look at ways of diversifying the economic activities of Kwakwani in the Berbice River, due to the flagging bauxite operations there.

Only 214 workers remain at BERMINE, and the PNC/R has charged that high rates being charged by Viceroy Shipping for its mooring facilities have further hindered the Kwakwani operations with ALCOA recently cancelling US$ 600,000 worth of metallurgical grade bauxite due to high freight charges.

It was the PNC/R while in Government which granted Viceroy exclusive rights to mooring in the Berbice River in 1990. When this time was up, Government extended the period.

But Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who moved the motion in the House, said it was not simply a matter of extending the exclusive rights to Viceroy, but the Government took the decision because it was the sound thing to do and it so remains convinced.

However, Mr Hinds said the Government is continuing to look for an arrangement where BERMINE and ALCOA could have access to the mooring stations.

Prime Minister Hinds repeated his previous statements to the effect that the fall of the bauxite industry had been signalled long ago. He pointed out that it was way back in the early 1970s when the bauxite operations of Region Ten slumped, and could only sustain itself on the “fat” of its once held success.

He indicated that from a study of 1983, a World Bank report revealed that the industry was operating at a loss, which would have required an almost immediate 30 per cent lowering of operational cost.

The Prime Minister earlier stated that the situation was further compounded with high costs for equipment and maintenance which retarded the cash flow to “re-capitalise” operations. This led to an imminent fall in production from 1975, the Prime Minister recounted.

He added that a US$30M intervention by the European Union (EU) in 1985 accounted for a rise again in bauxite production. The industry took a nosedive a few years later, but was again on the road to recovery through financial assistance in 1990.

Towards the end of the 1980s, the PNC, then in Government, looked towards privatising the industry, the Prime Minister noted yesterday.

He said it is not that the people in bauxite did not work hard and apply themselves.

“We have not been able to accept that even though that we have the best bauxite in the world, the challenge of getting to it is demanding. Our bauxite is the best in the world, but our mines are the largest and the deepest,” Mr. Hinds noted.

He refuted accusations that the Government has not been genuine in seeking a way out for the people of Region Ten given the failing industry.

The Prime Minister said that Government went against expectations of the multilateral financial institution and accepted full ownership of the Aroaima Bauxite Company (ABC), because savaging the bauxite operations of Region Ten would have meant immediate loss of jobs.

“Our move to keep ABC going demonstrates that we stand up for all Guyanese and the needs of all people,” the Prime Minister declared.

He alluded to the Government’s budgetary allocations to Region Ten in the last three years, 1999, 2000 and 2001, showing that the allocation increased from $62.7M, $88.3M to $101M, respectively.

In an effort to have the LINMINE operations privatised to cut treasury costs, Government is actively engaged in negotiations with Cambior, the parent body of Omai Gold Mines, for the majority sale of LINMINE. But, according to the Prime Minister, the negotiations have been tough.

In supporting the motion, PPP/C Member of Parliament, Ms. Philomena Sahoye-Shury, slammed the unions representing workers, saying that they knew that the prices for bauxite were falling and cost of production was rising, but did nothing for those they represent.

She came out frankly and said that the unions representing bauxite workers are not doing their job.

“They should have known long ago that the bauxite industry was in trouble and since the President of the Trade Union is the acting Board Chairman, how come nothing was done for the workers?” she asked.

Sahoye-Shury charged that representation of workers is downright appalling, “for any trade union worth its salt would have been negotiating a long time ago to come up with a solution in the interest of workers”.

“It therefore begs the question, is this a manouevre to divide and rule, putting the working class against this Government, and trying desperately to erode the Government’s capability of financially shaping the economy of Guyana?” Sahoye-Shury asked.

She said the trade union movement should have been putting constructive options on the table. When it did come up with an option, saying that it had an “investor” to bail out the industry, that proved to be mere wishful thinking.

The PPP/C Member of Parliament said the Government is committed to assisting the workers in alleviating the problem.

“We are not prepared to offer ‘pie in the sky’. But will assess realistically the situation of bauxite -- production costs, and sales -- and negotiate essential options for sound solutions,” Sahoye-Shury declared.