APNU and the AFC yesterday denied calling for the closure of the sugar industry and flayed the government for what they said were years of failed policies, mismanagement and questionable deals which culminated in disastrous production and a `white elephant’ Skeldon factory.
Following A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) press conference on Tuesday in which it called for a revamping and diversification of the flailing industry, the government and the ruling party accused it and later the Alliance for Change of calling for the shutdown of the industry.
In separate statements yesterday, both groups denied this. APNU said it is calling for a restructuring of the Board of Directors and its filling with competent professionals as a first step in tackling the problems of the industry.
In addition, it wants GAWU and other unions in the industry and the workers they represent to demand urgent changes to GuySuCo’s management at all levels.
APNU called again yesterday for a Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry and argued that there can be no cure for the severe problems of the industry without an expert analysis and diagnosis.
“APNU stands ready to contribute meaningfully to the search for a solution. The sugar industry is our national patrimony and must not be treated as the exclusive preserve or property of any political party”, the main opposition asserted.
It added that there is no dispute that over the past decade the industry has deteriorated calamitously and this seems beyond the capacity of its current “politically appointed Board of Directors” to reverse.
“It is enough to point to some glaring blunders: the awarding of the Skeldon Sugar factory to a Chinese contractor when an Indian or Brazilian contractor (sugar producing countries) could have done a better job at a much lower price; the failure of the PPP Administration to protect sugar workers’ interests through contractual arrangements regarding warranties and payment terms; the questionable arrangements surrounding this deal; other opaque deals including the Enmore packaging plant and supply of pumps involving Surendra Engineering, the Indian Company. The placing of political appointees to top positions and the loss of its once competent engineers and middle management have put GuySuCo on life support”, APNU charged.
APNU argued that a once vibrant and profitable industry was now “totally insolvent” with sugar workers and their families uncertain about their future.
“One restructuring plan after another by the PPP Administration have failed to generate increased production. In fact, almost every strategic plan was obsolete before the ink was dry. Successive Ministers of Agriculture have had their way with this corporation, with nothing but failure to show the people who toil all day in sun and rain for a livelihood.
“The square pegs in round holes currently in charge of GuySuco have no solution to its problems and there is no evidence that the Donald Ramotar Administration is capable of making the necessary changes. Only competent professionals can bring about a credible, strategic turnaround of the sugar industry”, APNU said.
The AFC in its statement said that it wished to categorically state that it never promoted a position to close the industry.
“This is downright political wickedness on the part of the tottering PPP/C Governemnt. The headline in the PPP controlled Guyana Chronicle of Thursday, March 13, 2014 is nothing but gross misrepresentation. This government is hard-headed and cannot understand the difference between transformation and closure. To make it clear, the AFC’s call for transformation would ensure the survival and sustainability of the industry based on complete sacking and replacement of the Board of Directors with competent persons, a Commission of Inquiry into the Skeldon Factory where $44 billion of taxpayers money went into modernising this ‘white elephant’, diversification to include ethanol production and alcohol products and involve the Union in the management of the Corporation”, the AFC said. It charged that after some 21 years in power, it was the PPP government that has brought the sugar industry to ruination through mismanagement, cronyism and disregard for the livelihoods of sugar workers.
“While it accuses the AFC of supporting the closure of the sugar industry it is in fact the government that is slowly tightening the noose around GuySuCo’s neck by continuing to place square pegs in round holes to manage the industry. The government is also guilty of siphoning off billions of dollars from the EU that could have been spent to turn the industry around but instead used much of the EU funds intended for sugar to prop-up the economy while it allowed sugar to slide into further failures”, the AFC declared.
On Wednesday, the main sugar union GAWU called on the government to transfer to the industry all the monies that the EU had given to Guyana since 2007 to cushion the impact on the sugar industry here of reforms to the EU sugar regime.
“The position of the Alliance For Change is that GuySuCo must be transformed to make it economically viable and this can be done by ensuring better management of the corporation, retooling the industry to ensure better production and moving towards meaningful diversification and integration of other by-products such as ethanol production”, the AFC argued.