PPP/C presidential candidate Donald Ramotar says that he is not in favour of the Skeldon factory being completely managed by foreigners and said that such personnel should only be relied upon for technical advice.
Recently Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud said that GuySuCo does not have the competence to run the troubled US$200M factory and he urged the corporation to speed up consideration of proposals by Indian and Chinese companies to run it.
When questioned on Persaud’s statements yesterday, Ramotar, a long serving member of the GuySuCo board, indicated that he viewed the situation differently. “I am not sure if his assessment is totally correct about our capacity to manage Skeldon but I do know that we will probably still need some technical assistance from outside in dealing with some of the issues,” Ramotar said. He was at the time addressing a media briefing at Freedom House.
“Generally from a managerial point of view, I think GuySuCo [has] got the skills that can manage the industry,” Ramotar said. He declared that he would not like to see the return to a situation similar to the Booker Tate arrangement.
The government fired the long standing Booker-Tate management team in February 2010 over the poor implementation and management of the factory.
Following Persaud’s statement, GAWU, the main bargaining unit for sugar workers, said it was very surprised by the minister’s remarks. The union said that while Persaud had urged the Board to quickly deliberate on the matter, the union had been reliably informed that the Board had not even seen a proposal on the matter at the time his made his remarks. Ramotar was unable to say if a proposal had been presented to the Board and admitted that he has not been attending these meetings in recent times.
Ramotar, however, staunchly defended government’s investment in the factory and expressed confidence that it “would eventually prove its worth”. “The decision that we took with Skeldon at the level of the board, I think could be defended anywhere. It was a question of working a strategy to save the sugar industry at the time when we know what was taking place in Europe” (the price cuts),” he said.
According to Ramotar, the factory is “settling down” and is showing encouraging signs. According to him, the factory is now producing at about 12 tonnes [of] canes to one tonne of sugar.
Questioned about future expenditure on the factory, Ramotar said that he doesn’t feel that heavy expenditure will be required in the future. GuySuCo, he opined, has to pay stronger attention to its agriculture than some of its factory issues.
The much-vaunted Skeldon factory was built by the Chinese company China National Technology Import and Export Corp (CNTIC). Work began on the factory in 2005 and it was expected that the project would have been completed by October 2007.
The commissioning date was pushed back several times until the end of 2008. CNTIC was engaged in a turn-key contract which would have seen GuySuCo take charge of its running.
The decision to put construction in the hands of CNTIC had been severely criticised. The old Skeldon factory was rated at 92 tonnes of cane per hour while the new factory has the capacity to process 350 tonnes per hour, but is performing far below this.