GuySuCo board pondering several management proposals, Bhim says

– as AFC calls for inquiry into Indian, Chinese companies

Several proposals are before the board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to manage the troubled Skeldon Sugar Factory which continues to experience several defects affecting its operation, GuySuCo CEO, Paul Bhim, said.

Bhim’s disclosure, which was made at a press conference yesterday at GuySuCo’s Ogle offices, completely differed from pronouncements made last month by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud who had stated then that proposals from a Chinese and an Indian firm were before the board of the sugar corporation to manage the US$200 million investment.

At the press briefing yesterday, which was called by GuySuCo in response to a statement issued earlier by the Alliance for Change (AFC) in relation to the factory, Bhim said the board has not made any concrete decision as regards a foreign entity managing the factory.

The Skeldon Sugar Factory (Stabroek News file photo)

AFC presidential candidate Khemraj Ramjattan said yesterday that there has been “a deafening silence” from GuySuCo and Persaud since the party made early pronouncements about a “potential surreptitious deal” concerning the management of the Skeldon factory. The party said it is aware of continuing negotiations behind closed doors for a management contract between the “favoured Surendra Engineering Co and the Agriculture Minister on behalf of GuySuCo”.  Surendra Engineering built the Enmore packaging plant.

However, Bhim said yesterday that the board of the sugar corporation continues to receive proposals and they are being studied.

He said that in March this year, South African company Bosch Engineering, conducted a study of the factory and made several recommendations to remedy problems there on a short-term basis. He said such recommendations are being implemented and are being managed by GuySuCo.

At the same time, China National Technology Import and Export Corp (CNTIC)continues to provide technical assistance to the operations at the factory, which will expire based on the original agreement, in July next year. Bhim said the Chinese are essentially assisting in the training of staff to manage the operation. In response to a question, he said the company’s assistance will be considered after the July deadline, if it is deemed necessary.

Yusuf Adbool, an administrator at the Skeldon factory, said the operation commenced grinding in the Region Six location on August 6 and to date more than 7,000 tonnes of sugar have been produced.

Bhim said the factory has shown improvement in terms of its output and, which is currently 245 tonnes per hour and he noted that improved weather conditions in the area have complemented such improvements.

At the moment some 12 defects have been identified at the factory, which Yusuf described as mostly “minor” and he added that same has “not significantly’ affected the operation. He said the arrival of spares from overseas was being awaited.

He identified the major defects as being related to the operations at the cogent plant adding that the corporation has been working with Wartsila to remedy the issue. He said two of the major defects were related to the cane converter area of the factory and there were design issues which have affected the full capacity of that section of the factory.

The AFC called for a full-scale public inquiry “to discover the credentials of [Surendra Engineering and CNTIC] and how they became fit and proper candidates for the contracts they won here in Guyana worth approximately US$200 million.” Neither of the factories they built here has been optimally operational to this day, the party stated, additional reference being made to the Enmore packaging plant.

The party called for all past and present contracts awarded to Surendra Engineering in Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya to be brought to light adding, “questions must be asked about whether it is genuinely an Indian company suffering the scrutiny of the law of India, or a hollow company out of Dubai before any completed contract is sealed.”

Persaud stated last month at a press conference that GuySuCo does not have the competence to run the troubled Skeldon factory and he urged the corporation to speed up consideration of proposals by the 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 its contention that GuySuCo would be able to run the much-vaunted Skeldon factory which has seen mishap after mishap.

General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, had expressed concern about the performance of the multi-million dollar Skeldon operation, and Persaud said he also shared similar worries about the state of the factory.

He said, however, that the operations were improving and “things are getting better” and, the Board of Directors of the corporation is assessing the proposals made by the Chinese and Indians. He declared “the reality is, and to be honest, GuySuCo does not have the competence that it perceives to manage the factory, not even Guyana [has] that expertise, [and] at the end of the day GuySuCo would have to find an arrangement.”

His declaration was the first official announcement that the corporation would not be able to run Skeldon and that foreign management would come back into the picture.

The Skeldon factory was built by CNTIC. Work on the factory began 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.

Meantime, Bhim said that GuySuCo is on stream to achieve its revised target for the year of 282,000 tonnes of sugar. The original target was set at 300,000 tonnes and Bhim said yesterday that at the moment some 166,000 tonnes have been produced.

He said that there had been a low rate of worker turnout at the East Demerara estates adding that the persistent issue is being addressed by the corporation. The Berbice estates have seen a better worker turnout, he added.