Divest 49% of Guysuco, Skeldon estate should be hived off

Dear Editor,

“Madam Speaker, our Government continues to place the highest priority on ensuring the long term viability of our sugar industry by increasing its competitiveness. The enhancement of agricultural productivity, diversification, increased investment in research and development, and the establishment of new processing facilities are among the key areas targeted to achieve the goals of the sector.”

Source – Page 21 of the 2008 Budget Speech from the Hon. Minister of Finance Dr. Singh.

Yet in 2013, Guysuco’s production dropped to a 23-year low at a dismal 186,807 tonnes some 5 years after.  Clearly the PPP has failed in the sugar belt.

The main risk at Guysuco continues to be is the inability of the decision makers to be entrepreneurial and effectively invest the limited resources in the industry to immediately stabilize production.  Why can’t Guysuco guarantee the nation a minimum production of 235,000 tonnes by fixing all the key performance inhibitors?

(Our international and local quotas add up to 235,000).

For this to happen, Guysuco has to be managed like a business, not a PPP political step child.  Thus I strongly encourage the PPP to do the following:

1. Separate Skeldon Estate as a new and distinct sugar company that will not be the financial responsibility of Guysuco.  The Skeldon Factory was imposed on the nation, by the Jagdeo PPP Government and thus the PPP has to take full financial responsibility for Skeldon.  This new sugar company will be vested to and owned by NICIL who will bear the full financial burden of this estate.  Ideally, NICIL should hire Guysuco on a Management Contract to manage the estate and supervise the work of the South Africans with the caveat that the new General Manager of the estate is a new talent who understands the Chinese technology at this estate but also the technical works that the South Africans are carrying out.  That person will be rewarded on production.

2. Consolidate the operations on the other functional estates and divest 49 percent of the shareholding of Guysuco to the local private sector, and international investors.  This will preserve this socio-economic industry firmly in the hands of the State which is not the optimal economic decision but is the better socio-political decision.  Such a decision will allow for new skills to be brought into the boardroom and at the same time raising valuable private capital to conduct comprehensive rehabilitation of the factories and the fields.  Every single estate will become its own cost centre so that we can identify which estates are a financial drain, why and take corrective strategic action.

3. Just go back to the basics please!  Let us review the current agronomical and engineering practices and compare it to the Jock Campbell days to assess what he did better and why and just make some basic changes like re-establishing the flood fallowing system from those days and re-adopting the techniques his scientists used when they allowed field hands to check the leaves of the cane to ascertain how and when to apply fertiliser.

4. As the final leg of this recommended four-step approach, concurrently set up a special projects team made up of technicians and policy makers from the Ministry of Agriculture, NAREI and the University of Guyana who will be tasked with conducting comprehensive scientific research on the production bottleneck issues with the objective of unleashing strategic solutions and funding options.

5. For Jock sake – appoint, empower and embrace a professional and competent board.  No more Raj Singh.

This letter is not intended to attack the PPP but to appeal to them earnestly to stop seeing “ghosts” all over the place and start doing something concrete for the 90,000 mouths than depend on the sugar belt.  For how long will these people continue to suffer?

All of us are in this together and thus we all are committed to the rehabilitation, rationalization and modernisation of Guysuco to ensure its long-term sustainability.  For how long will Khemraj Bagwandatt, a sugar factory worker at Enmore and his children, have to endure the small dilapidated shack at Pigeon Island in abject poverty because the PPP mismanaged the industry since 2001? (see article at http://www.stabroeknews.com/ 2013/features/sunday/beyond-gt/12/29/ pigeon-island-squatting-area/)

I am extremely concerned that the majority opposition especially Dr. Roopnaraine, the agriculture spokesperson for APNU has not found it within their power to make a difference in the life of the Bagwandatt family and all other sugar workers who continue to live in horrible conditions some 40 years after the “white man” left the sugar estates?

Why is the opposition not opposing, exposing and working hard at deposing the respective PPP Ministers of Agriculture and that Board of Directors who have failed these people since 2001 especially Mr Raj Singh from New Jersey?

 Yours faithfully,
Sasenarine Singh



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