GAWU surprised by Agri Minister’s statement on Skeldon management

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said yesterday that 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.”

According to the union’s press release, “it is widely known that the factory is still beset by major defects which continue to inhibit its maximum and efficient performance.”

GAWU contended that 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 at present to produce far greater sugar than this year’s revised target of 282,712 tonnes. Had the new factory been performing according to design and with the additional cane from farmers and the expanded estate cultivation, even greater quantities of sugar could be easily produced,” GAWU declared.

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, the union added.

“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.

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$2.5 million 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.”

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