Sugar target already below figure in new five-year plan

In a sign of the continuing problems in the sugar industry, the recently announced target for 2014 is more than 50,000 tonnes less than the projection in GuySuCo’s five-year strategic plan unveiled only last year.

GuySuCo’s target for 2014 is set at 216,000, an immediate deviation from its 2013-2017 strategic plan which had the industry target for 2014 at 278,752 with the troubled  Skeldon factory projected to make 57,915 tonnes. There is no word yet on what the new expected breakdown this year for the seven factories will be.

The 2013-2017 plan was itself meant to put the industry on a recovery path from the earlier blueprint for 2009-2018 which by 2013 was sharply below projections and needed rejigging.

Last year’s output of 186,000 tonnes, the lowest in 23 years, has triggered fresh concerns about the fate of the industry and worry that the corporation and the government appear to be without a viable plan.

On Friday, the main sugar industry GAWU went as far as pointing to what it saw as the real, clear and present danger to the industry. Economist, Dr Clive Thomas in a Sunday Stabroek column earlier this year says he is now more than ever convinced that the crisis in the sugar industry has gone beyond the point of no return.

In a new series on the sugar industry, Thomas said “At this point of time (the beginning of 2014), I am now more than ever convinced that the crisis in the sugar industry has passed its tipping-point or point of no return. This means that all hopes for a rational, considered and ordered reform and reconstruction of the industry are lost.”

Meanwhile, sources tell Stabroek News that the problem-plagued Skeldon Factory is currently without a manager even as the South African firm, Bosch Engineering, has completed the costly US$30 million rehabilitation work. The US$110M factory which was meant to be the industry flagship has seen disastrous performance over the years and GuySuCo’s 2013-2017 plan. Even with the costly improvements, Skeldon is only expected to grind at 71% of its original rated capacity of 350 tonnes of cane per hour. Last year’s grinding figure had been 185 tonnes per hour. It is expected to move up to 250 tonnes per hour this year.

The decision to move around the Skeldon factory’s management was made by the board of directors of the Guyana Sugar Corporation under its Chairman and future CEO, Raj Singh.

One industry insider stated that the board is making decisions at all levels from supervisors to mid-level management all the way up the corporate structure without consultation. Stabroek News was told that persons within the industry were explicitly told not to speak to the media in relation to how the corporation was being run.

Stabroek News was made to understand Bosch has given GuySuCo a defects liability period which would equate to a month’s worth of grinding time at the factory to see if further issues would arise with the six tasks the South African firm was hired to undertake.

The sugar insider stated that the board preferred to handle the defects liability period. Representatives from Bosch were expected over the weekend to check the heavy duty knives, the scratcher, the condensate tank, the plow boiler, super heater and pipe support. Representatives are expected to do a run through prior to Skeldon commencing first crop harvesting for 2014.  This would be very late in the year for the first crop.

The hope is that the US$30 million has rectified the myriad issues that have plagued the factory since it was commissioned in 2009. The original contractors, the China National Technical Import and Export Corporation, failed to evaluate mistakes that were made to the supposed turnkey factory and to date GuySuCo has been unable to identify why the defects liability period and penalties were not enforc-ed against the Chinese company.

GuySuCo has also brought in an Indian engineer from Integrated Casetech Consultants Ltd (ICC), based in India to supervise the factory’s operation. The sugar corporation has also recruited  additional engineers who have completely taken over the management of the Enmore Sugar Factory since the New Year. According to a source the Indian engineer at Skeldon was brought in without consultation with the factory management and that his role was not fully understood.

Stabroek News was told that the board was looking to bring in others and was using Enmore as a model for future foreign contracts. Previously Stabroek News was told by the head of the National Association of Agricultural, Commer-cial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), Kenneth Joseph, that skilled labour is overlooked in Guyana.

He had previously stated that “the corporation do not feel (that) listening to the workers’ voices is important”. He added that funding which could be spent in training and ensuring that workers were knowledgeable in their respected fields was spent elsewhere. Joseph had said that the union had requested GuySuCo to send workers to top sugar factories to see how they operated and what would be expected of them. GuySuCo never did and the US$180m Skel-don’s factory’s production has been dismal. (Pushpa Balgobin)

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