ONCE again I write, with the view to place on record a few polite questions and observations on a letter authored by the self-styled Turnaround Specialist, Sasenarine Singh. Last week, the said gentleman penned a missive of which I posited several innocuous questions with the sole intention of gaining a better understanding of his arguments. His response was absolutely shocking, the content of which was overflowing with paranoia and selective amnesia. In an attempt to assuage his distress, I immediately answered his bizarre questions, but unfortunately, the letter was not published.
It is for this reason that I will attempt to crystallise my identity, if it ever needed to be. Mr. Singh would be glad to know that I am actually Dr. Mark Devonish and not a Chinese computer algorithm that he is clearly worried about. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Physician, FRCP (UK). I am also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physician of Edinburgh, FRCP (Edin). I have a Master’s of Science in medical education from Sheffield University. I earned my MBBS from the University of Guyana, where Dr. Vindha Persaud was my batch mate, and Dr. Mahendra Carpen one of my seniors. Dr. Emmanuel Cummings was the Dean of Health Science. They can all vouch for my identity, and in the process assure him that I am not a Russian bot, as he inexplicably suggested. I am presently a Consultant of Acute Medicine at the Nottingham University Hospital, which is the fourth largest teaching hospital in the UK. Again, this can be confirmed by a simple phone call or email, but you need not, since Dr. Carpen already did. Finally, I do wish to assure Mr. Singh that I have not tried to obtain any private information on him. Any information I have is what is available in the public domain. If Mr. Singh strongly believes that I have accessed personal information on him without his authorization, then he is free to make a report to the relevant body, providing them with the evidence.
I will now respond to Mr. Singh’s letter, which is titled, “Sugar industry contributed US$1.6B in levy over 29 years, and deserves support now”. From this headline, I do wish to make a few observations and ask a few questions. If Mr. Singh has achieved the tertiary level education that he claimed to have done, then he should be familiar with the concept of academic referencing. In a newspaper letter column, I will not hold him to academic standard Harvard reference, but what I would have anticipated is that if numerical data is being presented to support his argument, at a minimum the readers would have expected to be provided with the source of the data, so that they can independently establish its authenticity. What Mr. Singh has demonstrated by just throwing numbers at the readers with no reference is known in the academic world as academic arrogance, which is understandably frowned upon.
My second observation from Mr. Singh’s headline is the emotive and nostalgic nature of his argument. He failed to articulate, not that the PPP or he can, how the sugar industry will benefit Guyana, and how it can be turned around after being in reverse gear with no financial regulatory handbrakes down a slippery production slope for nearly three decades, if not longer. This degree of economic inertia cannot gain economic momentum, even if it were to be assisted by subsidising tow truck in the form of oil. The fact is, and Mr. Singh and Mr. Jagdeo should be aware of this, that the Banking Industry is only about dollars and cents. It is only about pounds and pence. No reputable bank or company in their end-of-year financial report would report to their expectant shareholders that they have made 2 billion units of emotions in profits. No Government when presenting its economic report and forecast to the electorate and political opposition would place monetary value on nostalgia. In my first letter, I highlighted many companies that failed and were allowed to go under by Governments, despite emotional attachment. Emotional attachment should not be used as the only indicator for financial bailout. Unfortunately, that is the route being taken by Mr. Singh, who is clearly the mouthpiece for the PPP on the sugar industry. My opinion is that even if the industry was successful 45 years ago, then that cannot be used as the sole indicator for a bailout. No Government will get involved and have the economy go down south because of an emotional attachment to said failing industry. The hard reality of sports, to use an analogy, is that a player is as good as his last game. Ask Chris Gayle, if in doubt. A company is as good as its present financial standing. The financial report for the sugar industry would indicate an industry that has been in the red for over three decades. That in itself is disconcerting.
My third observation is that Mr. Singh argued that the Sugar Industry contributed US$1.6B in levy from 1974 – 2003, hence it has earned its right to be failing for nearly three decades. We should give more to the giver. First, the obvious question is how many billions in subsidies has it received from 2003-2019? How many more years of subsidies would convince Mr. Singh that this is an economic cul-de-sac? Does he wish us to make the same mistake as Trinidad where they solely depended on oil to correct all the economic ills, and when oil prices dropped, they were in serious financial problems. In my layman opinion, oil will be our last duck to lay us golden eggs. The oil and gas industry should not be used to subsidise industries like the sugar industry, which has minimal economic future. If we were to take the route that Mr. Singh and the PPP are recommending, then we may very well kill our last duck to provide us golden eggs, due to the burdens of the sugar industries and others. Finally, why the urgency now? Why was there not a similar urgency from Mr. Singh when the PPP Government downsize the sugar industry? Why no similar concerns about financial support for the bauxite industry?
Mr. Singh then went on to state that in in 2015, before the elections, he prepared a 5 year turnaround plan that would have reduced the cash loss to US$9 million by 2020. He also stated that on top of that turnaround plan would have been a 5-year stabilisation plan that would have achieved cash neutrality by 2025. What Mr. Singh is actually stating is that from his plan the Government would have continued to subsidise the failing sugar industry, for an unknown amount that he intentionally omitted, for a further 10 years at a minimum. I’m in the medical field and I am aware of the fact that the needs of a complex patient are met by a multidisciplinary team. A failing industry, the size of the sugar industry would not have one ‘turnaround specialist’ to offer an ‘expert opinion’ on reversal of its fortune. So therein lies Mr. Singh’s problem. Also on the Benschop radio interview, I got a different view from Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. What he articulated is that on taking office in 2015 the same year Mr. Singh allegedly proposed his turnaround plan, the CEO of GUYSUCO wrote to the Government and stated they had no monies. This was also in the print media. As a result the sugar industry was financed to the tune of billions. I don’t know if Mr. Singh factored this into his turnaround calculations. Secondly the Government was subsidising the sugar industry at one billion per month for the first 3 years in office. Thirdly, the Government had financial experts to assess the failing sugar industry with a few to determine its financial sustainability along with recommendations on the way forward. I was not made privy to the skillset of these experts but I would always take the recommendations of a team of independent experts over that of someone who clearly has an emotive and political connection with the sugar industry.
If ever there was doubt in Mr. Singh lack of objectivity and his blind allegiance to PPP, one just needs to peruse the remainder of his letter. At no point has he held PPP responsible for the demise of the sugar industry despite the fact that they mismanaged the sugar industry for 23 years. In his biased opinion, this Granger led Government destroyed the sugar industry in four years. He argued that Mr. Burnham imposed levy on the sugar industry but never stated the role Dr. Jagan played. He is quoting numeral data without providing the source. His arguments based on emotions and not on facts. Rather than have an intelligent debate he reduces this very serious issue to ridiculous name calling e.g. Chinese Computing algorithm. He boasts that he is a Turnaround Specialist with vast experience yet such critical information is not stated on his CV on his Linkdedln profile. He and PPP are attempting to hoodwink the sugar workers and Guyanese. He is attempting to take us down that dangerous path of historical negative. He is biased. He is not objective. He cannot be trusted because he makes excuses rather than answer the basic questions in my first letter. Frankly, I do not have much hope for the second letter. I have my doubts. Serious doubts. He believes because the majority in PPP who surrounds him, believe reopening the estates is in the best interest of the sugar industry and the country, he took it as fact. He attempted to twist history and numbers to support their position. Argumentum ad populum personified. Intellectual dishonesty. Intellectual immaturity. Intellectual infantilism. For these reasons this government should keep Sasenarine Singh miles away from the sugar industry.
Finally, Sasenarine Singh stated that he does not know me, yet the very day he wrote that letter claiming not to know me, in a ridiculous attempt to escape my questions, he was making argumentum ad hominem attacks on social media directed at me. The man that state not to know me was referring to me by name, number, rank and disability. This is from someone who is calling for a serious discussion on how to rebuild the sugar industry. In my opinion, Sasenarine Singh and the PPP should never be taken seriously, and I guess that is the position of the Government. I may very well join them, since I am convinced this gentleman is clearly not my intellectual equal, and lacks the courage for a serious debate.
Dr. Mark Devonish