APNU calls for inquiry into sugar corporation

-slams Agri Minister over Skeldon admission

The opposition political group APNU yesterday called for an inquiry into the Guyana Sugar Corporation saying it is unacceptable that Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud can now say that management cannot run the flagship Skeldon estate after making “excuses” before.

“It is unacceptable that after giving the public every conceivable excuse – including factually questionable, misleading, and unachievable targets and predictions – he (Persaud) is now publicly declaring that the current management of the sugar industry, which he played a significant role in appointing, is incapable of successfully managing the Guyana Sugar Corporation,” said Anthony Vieira reading from a prepared statement at a media briefing by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) yesterday at PNCR Headquarters.

“For the PPP to be forced to make this disclosure of not being able to manage the sugar industry this close to an election, shows how far up the creek Skeldon really is,” he said.

Anthony Vieira

Persaud had said last Friday that GuySuCo does not have the competence to run the troubled US$181M Skeldon factory and he urged the corporation to speed up consideration of proposals by Indian and Chinese companies to run it. It was a stunning admission by Persaud, in the wake of the government’s dismissal of Booker-Tate from management of the industry several years ago and their contention that GuySuCo would be able to run the much-vaunted Skeldon factory which has seen mishap after mishap. He had not identified the companies that were being evaluated.

Presidential Candidate of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan had identified China National Technology Import and Export Corp (CNTIC) – the company that built the problem-plagued Skeldon sugar factory – and Surendra Engineering – the company that constructed the Enmore sugar packaging plant where a worker died after a piece of equipment exploded – as the two companies that are being evaluated by GuySuCo to take over the management of the Skeldon factory. He had urged the rejection of these two companies after raising questions about their experience and whether there was any tender for the project.

Vieira yesterday noted the plan to employ either Chinese or Indian Managers. He pointed out that the US$200M Skeldon factory was built by the Chinese. “The Skeldon factory, which has been labelled by knowledgeable persons as a “white elephant”, continues to be the biggest and most expensive problem in the local sugar industry,” he said.

He added that the members of the board do not have knowledge of the industry. “This political control of the board and the industry has in no small way contributed to the demise of the corporation and now they are about to compound one mistake with another by bringing in a management team which is not familiar with our conditions,” Vieira said. He called for the mounting of a Commission of Inquiry into the functioning of GuySuCo.

Vieira said that the party’s research disclosed that the country with the biggest and most efficient production of sugar from sugar cane, on the planet, is Brazil. “However, the PPP/C Administration seem reluctant to do the sensible thing and seek help from Brazil, our neighbour who has at all times been willing and eager to help. Instead, the President Jagdeo PPP/C Administration has opted to deal with Chinese or Indian companies which have no demonstrated track record that matches the expertise of the Brazilians,” he charged.

“It should be noted that the major sugar producing areas in Brazil are close to us geologically and have similar climatic and other problems to those we face in Guyana, especially as regards to mechanization under high rainfall regimes… it is almost too obvious to state that it is from the Brazilians where we should look for help,” he said.

Meantime, Vieira said that APNU’s information is that Skeldon is performing “dismally” and the production of the factory continues to be a cause for great concern. “At this time, in 2011, according to GuySuCo’s own projections, Skeldon should have been producing 100,000 tons of sugar (40,000 tons in the first crop and 60,000 tons in the second crop). In the first crop of this year, Skeldon turned in a production of a little over 10,000 tons,” he said.

“That is 75% less than what the PPP management told us it would do when they started spending the US$200Mn on the factory and field expansion there. This is as a result of the continuous late reaping, due to a complete breakdown of the process of getting the cane from the fields to the factory, compounded by the numerous and costly factory problems being experienced. The level of production is completely unacceptable and the number of tons of cane to make a ton of sugar is horrendous, Vieira charged.

He said that in the just concluded first crop, two thirds of the shortfall in production occurred at Skeldon and one third occurred at LBI and Enmore.

“In 1999, when the Skeldon project was still on paper, stalwarts of the sugar industry including yours truly urged the PPP to use caution in expanding our industry, since the European Union was removing the preferential price and Guyana had several logistical problems to expansion, not least of which was a declining workforce, and the inability to mechanize due to our cambered bed layout. However, whilst Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados were downsizing their industries, in view of this loss of the preferential price, the PPP/C Administration was inexplicably expanding ours, despite urges of caution by the opposition,” Vieira said.

“We also hold the view that the Guyana cane farmers, who are supplying some 8-10% of the sugar cane to our factories, should be given their share of the EU developmental funds paid to the Government to offset the loss of the preferential price. We think that the Government owes the Guyana cane farmers, who have served the local industry well, their share of this fund,” he added.