On August 19 during a press conference where he baldly declared that GuySuCo did not have the expertise to run the troubled Skeldon factory, Agriculture Minister Mr Robert Persaud also made the statement that the board needed to hurry up with its consideration of proposals from an Indian and a Chinese company to manage the operations.
The latter statement produced reactions of disbelief not only because of the suddenness of the announcement but also because the public had been completely unaware that there was a management contract under consideration for the Skeldon factory let alone two apparently fully developed proposals rivalling each other.
In the days following Mr Persaud’s announcement, the main sugar union GAWU expressed surprise at Minister Persaud’s announcement and said that its information was that there was presently no proposal before the board for a management contract.
When pressed again about this, Minister Persaud would only say that what was before the board was an “enhanced” proposal of an existing arrangement. He provided no other details and referred further queries to the Guyana Sugar Corporation. How an “enhanced“ proposal could be transformed into serious, open bidding for a management contract at the corporation’s flagship factory has not been explained.
At a press conference last week, GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Paul Bhim said there were several management proposals before the board but he provided no confirmation that an Indian company, Surendra and the builder of the problematic Skeldon factory, CNTIC were the ones whose proposals were before the board and under active consideration pending a final decision. Perhaps the management of the corporation wanted to avoid embarrassing Minister Persaud or was simply attempting to walk between the raindrops.
Whatever the reality, Minister Persaud has caused serious questions to be raised about the veracity of his statements in this very important matter and should therefore be made to account for them. His credibility is now on the line and he should be reprimanded unless he can convince the public of the truth of his statements. The sugar industry and its management are not playthings for this government and its preferred contractors. If it was the case that the government, as it is capable of doing, wanted to shoe-horn Surendra or CNTIC onto the Skeldon management contract without adhering to a well-publicised tendering then it must be exposed and condemned. Worse, it would appear that Minister Persaud’s startling condemnation of the GuySuCo management was intended to clear a path towards a rapid decision in favour of either Surendra or CNTIC, both of whom have serious questions surrounding them as it relates to the quality of their work in the sugar industry here and their bona fides for the tasks that they are to be considered for. The tenor and content of Minister Persaud’s statement unmasked again the serious problem of ministerial interference and hijacking of the functions of boards and managements of autonomous corporations.
Senior officials of this government have become inured to any fear of being held accountable for their misguided actions or misrepresentations, and so the ease with which these statements roll off their tongues is troubling. The worst apparently that could happen to them is a diplomatic posting to some cushy capital.
There is much at stake in the sugar industry as was stated in an August 29 editorial in this newspaper and much to be accountable for. Given the duplicitous statements that have recently emerged, it is important that the Minister clarify in exact manner what he said at the press conference. At the same time it would help if the management and the board of the sugar corporation answer the following. Has a decision been made to privatise the management of the Skeldon factory? If so, when, and why wasn’t the information released to the public? What would be the rationale for foreign management of the corporation at this point given the none too recent banishing of Booker Tate? Was there a well-publicised invitation for bids for management of Skeldon and if so what sort of due diligence was done to ensure that the bidders were fit and proper candidates? What penalties have been assigned to CNTIC for not completing the project as required and when will it finally hand over the factory? Answers to these questions will reveal the level of transparency attending the business of this important industry and whether the relevant stakeholders are being kept in the loop.