Orphaned by bauxite
Cast adrift by its main industry, Linden struggles to find a new purpose By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
February 10, 2004

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Once Linden was bauxite and bauxite was Linden. The two were indivisible and residents worked hard and prospered amidst the dusty hills. Now all that remains is the dust and an emerging poverty for a community that seems unable to find a new place in Guyana's economy.

The town is bleeding, says one businessman, with the Linmine redundancies now beginning to squeeze everyone's pocket book. (Cambior rehired only around 200 of the 650 workers made redundant in August when it took control of the company.)

Resident Jonathan Adams pins his hopes on the resources around the town and the road to Brazil, which will open up the interior and make Linden a gateway to the hinterland.

He does not want to look back at who is to blame for his town's demise but only that Linden must break out from its mining town mould. The days when almost every resident had a relative employed in bauxite, when the company looked after the roads, water system, electricity as well as the health of its citizens, are over.

Adams says this had made residents reactive, waiting for things to be done, rather than getting up and doing it themselves and it is hard now for them to change. He laments the town's education system, which has failed to deal with the switch from the mining town syndrome to one where persons are encouraged to occupy land.

Some still have hopes that the bauxite company under the new management of Omai could once again be an anchor for the economy.

Former bauxite company head and owner of Barrow's Lounge and Bar, Dunstan Barrow is optimistic. He says neighbour Brazil is on the verge of getting out of the calcined bauxite market along with China, which will mean greater demand for Guyana's high quality ore.

This would mean major repairs to the kilns and other infrastructure, which could mean jobs. But he does not feel the industry would ever be able to offer jobs at the level it once did given that cost is a priority.

As for Barrow's own business he has had to adapt by expanding his product line at his hotel and other businesses to cater for every type of customer. But he warns against people plunging into business since a person must have some desire or else risk failure.

He says training by the Linden Economic Advance-ment Programme (LEAP) is helping in preparing persons for business. LEAP is mostly being funded by the European Union (EU) and was set up specifically to address the fallout from the decline of the bauxite industry by encouraging and training entrepreneurs while helping them to access financing.

Barrow is guardedly optimistic that the future could be better once a reasonable business package is developed to encourage economic activity.

Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union head, Charles Sampson sees the first quarter of the year as critical. Without positive indicators or programmes to encourage growth, things could get rapidly worse and desperation leads to more crime. He estimates that more than 70% of the population in the region is unemployed and major investments are needed quickly.

Meanwhile former CEO and current head of the Linmine secretariat, Horace James says efforts to dispose of the company's assets are progressing slowly.

According to James, the secretariat among its new responsibilities is now charged with managing the town's power plant after it formally took back control from US firm Texas Ohio, which had run it bankrupt.

James says the plant is running better with work continuing to secure its reliability.

As for the company's thrift plan, contributors could be refunded by the end of the first quarter with the completion of the winding up process at the end of 2004, says James.

He worries most about the jobs and says Linmine has not rehired many more persons from the numbers taken on when it began running operations on August 1.

Over at Singh's Cash and Carry on Dageraad Avenue, the owner is frustrated given that the hardware store at one time received around 80% of its business from the bauxite firm.

He is thinking about closing down as it seems that the new management Cambior brings in all of its supplies.

Singh is also wary about the intentions of LEAP. He points to some imported spades, hammers and axe handles and wonders why these cannot be made with a small amount of technological investment and using raw materials now being exported unprocessed.

And he says by-products of the bauxite industry including chalk and putty, which had been developed by Linmine's research department, could also be produced.

But not everyone is preaching doom and gloom. Orin and Shane Frank, who operate Cozab's Auto Spares and Variety Store, are enthusiastic about their prospects for their business, which has prospered thanks in part to their own ability to adapt. It all depends on the type of business a person is involved in and what products they have on offer, they say.

There might be slow months but if you have the right mix, sales should be steady. They also stressed the importance of reinvesting profits.