I am obliged to join my more esteemed brethren, from Manchester in the UK to the Land of Oz, in highlighting some areas of concern in the Guyana Sugar Corporation. Without a doubt, those who are versed in management theories and have other relevant expertise can produce volumes. The Skeldon debacle warrants a separate independent examination.
Who runs the show? Is it the Minister of Agriculture? The jury is still out on the present holder but in recent years we have not been blessed with an energetic and pro-active one. Is it (or was it) the Board of Directors filled with political appointees? Or is it the Booker-Tate personnel who are paid and arm and a leg without being held accountable for results? The President very belatedly ridiculed the well-worn excuses being spewed out over the past two decades for the parlous state of the industry − poor weather, strikes, labour shortages, etc − and the frequent visits of a senior official of the Booker-Tate London headquarters (formerly of the local hierarchy) seem not to have made any difference.
Was everyone asleep at the wheel for the past twelve years? That is the reported period for which a consultant is being sought to examine the operations and financial management of the corporation after a gradual descent into disaster. A few months ago another inquiry began into field operations of the East Demerara Estates, which report has been handed in and is said to point out all the shortcomings known to the average worker for years. Lord knows that if an individual estate required one such, it would be Uitvlugt, where malfeasance over the years has gone without notice because some personnel have been a ‘protected species.’
The new-fangled reorganisation saw the Administrative Manager becoming a ‘General’ and the appointment of a ‘Farm Manager’ (most with no ‘farm’ to tend). Not to be outdone, two other Guyanese entities proceeded to have ‘Rate-setting Directors’ and ‘Farmers’ Relations Specialist’! I’m told that for the sugar industry, this was based on the ‘Swaziland Model’ and whether serious or not, word in the backdam has it that until someone woke up a few months ago the ‘Zimbabwe Model’ was being finalised.
Meanwhile, the resurrection of the National Cane Farming Committee about two years ago saw the Manager put to manage a location with less than 10 % of farmers’ output nationally. Never mind what happens at Skeldon, for example, where the need to boost farmers’ output is greatest.
A recent announcement doing away with the General Manager’s position largely reflects the saying “Moon ah run til day ketch am.” In recent times, only one of them has been dismissed while others have been transferred to Head Office. Stay tuned to see if this grand tradition is now to be followed.
But where’s the money? This is a mystery only for those who are both blind and wish not to see. Corrupt practices rule the day, where payment is made for work not done, and for not even being present.
Workers can celebrate weddings from Friday to Monday at full pay (with premium for Sunday as well); shift workers can go home for lunch and a ‘five’; amidst rampant theft of estate materials no one has ever been jailed. The list is endless. Has the Audit Department, now with specialists in finance, factory, field, anything to show for this? What about all the chemicals, fertilisers, cane-hoist slings, etc, not being accounted for?
From here, where?
Someone has already jumped the gun and resited the Head Office with the appointment of two Regional Directors (RD) before the new Interim Board of Directors has been appointed.
The only parallel here is dismantling the old Skeldon Factory before the new one was even put to a test-run! I can only shudder to think what the likes of eminent agriculturists like Messrs Strathearn, Billyeald and Frank D’Almada would think. With all the contracting out, a most fertile and booming area of massive corruption has enveloped the entire industry, although no one seems to notice, much less ensure value for money.
A few thoughts:
a) The tendency to look for solutions from the very ones who created the problems in the first place will have to be avoided at all costs.
b) Get out of a state of denial and admit that the cancer has spread far, deep and wide within the corporation. Aspirins will not do. Radical surgery is required.
c) Spin-off the Skeldon Project as a special unit headed by its own director.
d) Sell the West Demerara Estates to a private entity (no drug lords, please!).
e) Establish a Board of Directors of 7-10 knowledgeable and experienced individuals who are capable of putting country and sugar industry before anything else. Form specialist committees (Agriculture, Technical, Finance and Administration, Appointments and Compensation); these should be able to ensure managers manage for results. Party hacks should be warned not to apply.
f) Reconfigure the corporate structure to provide for employee and public stock ownership for 49% (or a lesser realistic figure) of the new entity.
g) Act now. The patient is haemorrhaging. Be quick or the patient is dead.
(Name and address supplied)