AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday accused the government of secretly working with an Indian company to manage the Enmore sugar factory, saying that the plans were cancelled in order to avoid potential embarrassment over the lack of transparency.
Ramjattan, AFC’s presidential candidate, told a media briefing that the government attempted to make a deal with Salim al Midah, a subsidiary of Surendra Engineering of India, to manage the Enmore factory. He said the cancellation of the deal occurred last week. “This was secretly done to avoid the embarrassment which would have emerged since there was no tendering of this management contract,” he said, while adding that the deal was worth in excess of US$500,000.
Two weeks ago, CEO of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Paul Bhim said that several proposals are before the board of the corporation to manage the troubled Skeldon factory, which continues to experience several defects affecting its operation.
Bhim’s disclosure completely differed from pronouncements made in August 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. Bhim noted at the time the board has not made any concrete decision as regards a foreign entity managing the factory.
The Enmore packaging plant has been touted as a major boost for the local sugar industry, which has been struggling with production and finances in the past few years. The focus of the plant is packaged sugar and initially it will package some 40,000 tonnes for the local market as well as markets in the region and wider afield.
The plant was built by Surendra Engineering Corporation out of India at a cost of US$12.5 million. It has the capacity to increase output to 80,000 tonnes of packaged sugar a year. Currently, GuySuCo produces around 8,000 tonnes of packaged sugar.
Ramjattan, who said the AFC would not “let up on scrutinizing the PPP-infected board at GuySuCo nor the agriculture minister who has been a thorough embarrassment,” also called for full disclosure on why GuySuCo engineers were ordered to accept as complete the incomplete and defect-riddled work of Surendra Engineering at the Enmore Sugar Factory. He added that information suggests that the local engineers were intimidated into accepting as satisfactory the work of Surendra Engineering, in order to allow payments out to that company.
“The rehabilitation works of the factory have not gone forward within the timelines specified in the contract and huge amounts were being paid out. It must be noted that some US$12 million of taxpayers monies were put into both the packaging plant and rehabilitation of the old factory. How far has each gone?” he questioned.
Ramjattan also demanded answers from the government on why Surendra and/or CNTIC were being considered as the proposed management contractors for the Skeldon Sugar Factory and at what price. He said that the party knew of firm proposals sent by reputable companies who have indicated that their proposals were not even acknowledged.
“There must be no stealth in whatever deals are being sorted out by Mr Robert Persaud and Dr [Nanda] Gopaul. There is a stony silence from the PPP’s presidential candidate and GuySuCo director for 19 years, Mr Donald Ramotar, on all that is going on at the board level,” Ramjattan noted.
He said that the AFC wishes to see a vibrant sugar sector and not its closure, while pointing out that several PPP propagandists on the election trail have been alluding to the AFC advocating the closure of the industry. He promised that his party would instil “transparency, accountability and a professional approach” to the sector’s governance.