GAWU surprised by Agri Minister’s statement on Skeldon management

The main sugar union GAWU today said it was surprised by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud’s exhortation for GuySuCo to decide quickly on Indian and Chinese proposals to manage the troubled Skeldon factory saying it has been reliably informed that the matter has not been taken to the board as yet.

GAWU’s statement put it at further odds with Persaud over the Skeldon estate and upped the pressure on him to explain how it was he came to say proposals from Indian and Chinese companies are under consideration for the flagship Skeldon factory.

GAWU said it was very disappointed by the reported remarks by Persaud which implied that Guyanese were incapable of running the industry. GAWU said that local managers are running all of the other estates and the industry as a whole. The union also said that Persaud  needs experience, advice and guidance.”

“Why is Skeldon factory now being isolated for possible outside management? Generally, management may have their weaknesses, but the Union is not convinced that the Skeldon’s factory failures are solely the consequence of poor management. Other critical factors are at the root of its misfortune. They are the factors that should be purposefully addressed. We hope that the Minister has been wrongly quoted for it is impossible for any legitimate examination to lead to such a conclusion”, GAWU said.

An aerial view of the new Skeldon factory (SN file photo)
An aerial view of the new Skeldon factory (SN file photo)

Persaud was widely reported as making these remarks and has not refuted them. Analysts surmise that the government is trying to deflect responsibility for the deep woes of the Skeldon factory, planning for which had largely been in the hands of President Bharrat Jagdeo and the GuySuCo board of which PPP Presidential Candidate Donald Ramotar has been a member since 1992.

Critics have said one of the key blunders by the Jagdeo administration and the board was the hiring of the Chinese firm CNTIC to construct the factory. Since Persaud’s statement on the Skeldon management, reports have said that CNTIC was one of the two companies being considered to run Skeldon. When asked about this Persaud had said that this would be just an enhancement of the CNTIC arrangement if agreed to. Critics have said this is not conceivable as CNTIC had a turnkey project i.e. to deliver a fully functional factory that GuySuCo would then run.

GAWU, which has over the past few years been increasingly at odds with the government over the management of the industry and wages, said it is widely known that the factory is still beset by major defects which continue to inhibit its performance. “We certainly recall late last year, one of the Factory’s two boilers exploded. Subsequently it was repaired by the Contracting Company at its own cost of US$2.5M and which only returned to service at the beginning of the current autumn crop. “

The sugar union, the bedrock of the ruling party’s labour support, reiterated that the corporation has to “truthfully advise workers, indeed, this nation on the state of affairs of the new Skeldon factory which remains unfriendly to the industry’s treasury.”

The full statement follows:

“The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the bargaining agent for thousands of workers in Guyana’s sugar sector who are employed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (Guysuco), was very surprised by the Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud’s revelation that the Corporation was looking to engage either a Chinese or Indian company for the management of the operations of Skeldon Estate. The Minister urged the Board to quickly deliberate on the matter, a matter which, the Union has been reliably informed, has not even been received by the Board for consideration at the time of the Minister’s announcement.

“The strategic thinking behind the Skeldon Sugar Modernisation Project (SSMP) was to buttress the industry following the effects of the reform, a few years ago, of the European Union’s Sugar Regime. The Project was designed to include a state-of-the art factory capable of producing 110,000 tonnes sugar per annum.

“The factory, a turnkey project constructed by China National Technical Import & Export Corporation (CNTIC) had already been far behind schedule when it began to experience debilitating problems which have persisted. The factory is effectively in the hands of the Sugar Corporation, having been taken over by Guysuco in November last year.

“It is widely known that the factory is still beset by major defects which continue to inhibit its maximum and efficient performance. We certainly recall late last year, one of the Factory’s two boilers exploded. Subsequently it was repaired by the Contracting Company at its own cost of US$2.5M and which only returned to service at the beginning of the current autumn crop.

“The Corporation needs to take corrective measures at the technical level lest the Factory’s problems continue to bedevil the whole industry. The Sugar Industry has the capacity presently to produce far greater sugar than this year’s revised target of 282, 712 tonnes. Had the new factory been performing as per design and with the additional cane from farmers and the expanded Estate cultivation, even greater quantities of sugar could be easily produced.

“However, if the production target is achieved, although modest, at the prevailing world market sugar price, the beleaguered industry will be able to alleviate itself, this year, of its deep indebtedness.

“GAWU wishes to reiterate its call for the Corporation to truthfully advise workers, indeed, this nation on the state of affairs of the new Skeldon factory which remains unfriendly to the industry’s treasury.

“Through the grapevine, GAWU has learnt that the Minister’s statement could well be related to the Company that was a main part of the Factory’s construction and the other, the firm that was engaged in building the Enmore Packaging Plant. If so, other troubling questions would arise.

“As we await these answers, GAWU is very much disappointed by the alleged remarks of the Minister implying that Guyanese are incapable of running the industry. It should be noted that local personnel are managing all the estates of the industry and the industry itself. Why is Skeldon factory now being isolated for possible outside management? Generally, management may have their weaknesses, but the Union is not convinced that the Skeldon’s factory failures are solely the consequence of poor management. Other critical factors are at the root of its misfortune. They are the factors that should be purposefully addressed. We hope that the Minister has been wrongly quoted for it is impossible for any legitimate examination to lead to such a conclusion.

“GAWU hopes that facts are not manipulated nor are presented to justify the return of the industry into foreign hands.

“GAWU feels that an honest, objective and collective approach by all the stakeholders be a first step to address Skeldon’s failure.

“Incidentally GAWU wishes to observe that the workers and the union have not been made a scapegoat of the problematic factory, at least at this time.

“The Minister needs experience, advice and guidance.”

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