The composition of the new Board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is highly unsatisfactory and largely reflects the re-cycling of PPP cronies, APNU’s spokesperson on finance Carl Greenidge says.
“There has not any been an attempt to justify the retention of the specific former Board members. Given the importance of GuySuCo to Guyana and the amount of taxpayers’ money at issue, one would have expected the President’s advisers to have given some thought to identifying the specific skills needed for an effective Board. If any such thought has gone into these choices it is not evident,” Greenidge said in a letter published in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek.
Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy recently announced that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Water Inc Shaik Baksh has been appointed as Chairman of the Board of Directors of GuySuCo. The other members appointed to the Board are Dunstan Barrow, Chairman, Board of Directors, Linden Enterprise Network; Dr Dindyal Permaul, Chief Executive Officer, Guyana Livestock Development Authority; Keith Burrowes, Executive Chairman, Board of Directors, Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest); Badri Persaud, Managing Director, Guyana Oil (Guyoil); and Geeta Singh-Knight. GuySuCo’s CEO Raj Singh is an ex-officio member.
Greenidge recalled that when as Chief Planning Officer, he first interfaced with the GuySuCo executive, it had one of the most impressive and competent management teams in the country. It was also a most culturally diverse team and those characteristics were not unrelated, he said while arguing that this is not the case now.
“The poor performance of the company, its Board and management is not a coincidence, it is self- inflicted and arises in part from reckless and socially irresponsible behaviour of this kind. In one swoop over less than 20 years the Board has managed, no doubt at the prompting of the PPP, to create a de facto homogeneity that is dysfunctional and poisonous,” Greenidge asserted.
“The precipitate disposal of formerly qualified personnel and loss of institutional memory have taken a toll on an industry faced by unprecedented changes. The much vaunted and unrivalled traditional expertise in labour management, logistics and agronomics to which I have made reference has been dissipated. Poor financial management, ill-informed investment decisions, conflict of interest and corruption at the point of procurement has left it badly wounded. The roots of these problems lie at the interface of government, the Board of Directors and management,” Greenidge declared. He added that much of what else is wrong with GuySuCo has been identified by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in recent years.
GuySuCo now needs a Board whose members have been carefully selected with the personal integrity to be able to avoid financial conflicts of interest, members who collectively bring expertise in large scale labour management, familiarity with best practices as regards both self-assessment as well as goal setting and performance assessment for management. Precisely at the point when the company is in crisis it needs to mobilise the richness of the community as a whole in which it is embedded, he declared.
According to Greenidge, the reality is that under the old Board, transfers to GuySuCo have risen exponentially in recent years and at this point in time there is no credible plan to get them out of that situation. Whereas in 2011 the Ministry of Finance (MOF) allocated some $209M to the company, in 2012 the figure had jumped to $4B, by 2013 it was $5.36B when the Minister had given the assurance that the $1B set out in the budget is all they would need. This year the figure stands at $6B, he noted.
“After failing to make good assurances to effect improvements in the company’s performance the President agreed to replace the Board. One would have hoped that the President and the Minister of Agriculture would have made an assessment of the contributions the members of the last Board made to its work. Retaining members from the former Board should have been an exception and should have (been) informed by the specific and useful skills they had been bringing to the Board,” Greenidge asserted.
“GuySuCo’s performance would not improve without drastic change. The development plan for 2014-17 will have to be drastically revisited by the new Board because it is already redundant. Indeed (economist) Clive Thomas has suggested that the company may be beyond the point of no return,” he observed.
He noted that the Minister of Agriculture had publically agreed to bring persons to the Board with skills to help to resuscitate the company financially. “It is unlikely that the $15B the company has received over the last 3 years alone to keep it afloat could be repaid. It has, in spite of that stock of debts, arrears to the income tax department and to the NIS not to mention trade creditors,” Greenidge pointed out.
He said that the damage to GuySuCo may be irreversible.
As it relates to persons without the relevant skills being appointed to the Board, Greenidge said that Baksh’s inclusion cannot be justified on the basis of his performance with two ministerial portfolios. He added that most commentators assume that it is a reflection of the PPP obsession with re-cycling loyal colleagues but Baksh’s relationship with his former colleagues has been too rocky to explain such a high profile post.
“We have therefore to look elsewhere for the reason. It is probably to be found in internal PPP politics and may be evident with the passage of time,” the APNU parliamentarian said.
In similar vein, he said that Geeta Singh-Knight presided over the collapse of CLICO (Guyana). When the losses for which she was responsible were put to then president Bharrat Jagdeo on the occasion of the announcement of her first appointment to the GuySuCo Board he said in her defence that, “It’s not like it [the money] disappeared or was siphoned…The problem is it was the judgment, it might be bad judgment,” Greenidge recalled.
“That bad judgment included breaking the law by undertaking overseas investment significantly in excess of what the laws of Guyana permit and for a considerable period it was known that she was in breach of the Insurance Act,” he said while noting that her appointment was also opposed by others. “Bad judgement is not normally an asset a responsible employer would seek out in recruiting staff, let alone Board members! Do we really need to bring to the Board someone who has proven to be so blasé about breaking the law,” Greenidge questioned.
He also pointed to actions by Burrowes, “whose inability or unwillingness to provide answers to press questions about the role of Go-Invest, which he chairs, in relation to exceptional fiscal concessions received by Bai Shan Lin suggests no appetite for accountability in circumstances where the role of the entity in the process has been explicitly set out in government documents.”
Greenidge said too that the absence of a workers’ representative would be unfortunate given the circumstances in which the company is currently placed.
In relation to Barrow’s appointment, Greenidge said that his issue with the man’s inclusion is not his skills or baggage but the political end the appointment is intended to serve. He pointed out that the government, under the 1998 Herdmanston accord and follow-up, is supposed to invite and appoint to the state boards and committees, opposition members. “But true to form the government has failed to implement many elements of the agreement,” he said citing GuySuCo.
“The appointment of Mr Barrow, a former PNCR MP, without reference to the opposition is probably intended to give the public the impression that that outstanding condition has at last been met. Not so,” Greenidge declared.
He questioned whether the Board can make a difference. “More importantly, is the President’s proposal a serious one? These state boards are seen by the PPP as a refuge or sinecures for loyal servants. Some have had to be moved from elsewhere as a result of unsatisfactory or embarrassing performance. Thus the most obvious characteristic feature of the membership is that it largely reflects the re-cycling of cronies,” Greenidge declared.
“Obviously the PPP regime has no intention of tackling the main reasons for the GuySuCo crisis, poor decisions taken by the Board and the failure to protect management from debilitating political interference. The President undertook to appoint a Board that is professional, competent and charged ultimately with improving the financial situation of the company. He has not done so,” he asserted.
“The Board’s composition is highly unsatisfactory. Having been in labour and overdue for six months, the elephant roared and brought forth a mouse,” Greenidge declared. “This mouse is likely to be about as effective as the emperor’s new clothes! In the light of this and indeed of all the foregoing, the PPP government should harbour no illusions about the likelihood of parliamentary support of future requests for funds for GuySuCo,” he added.