GuySuCo’s several strategic plans never admitted a dearth of competencies to manage the Skeldon factory

Dear Editor,

It bears repeating:  ‘You can fool some of the people all the time; all the people some of the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time,‘ except, of course, your own selves.

This truism is most applicable to the press release regarding GuySuCo’s Skeldon ‘flagship’ (turned shipwreck) being ‘refloated’ by a choice of either Indian or Chinese contractors, who have been specifically identified for assignment to a lifeboat.

It is nonetheless a curious dilemma for the reputed decision-makers who, at the very beginning, had rejected the bid of an even more reputable Indian Engineering Group – representative of the second most acknowledged sugar factory builders in the world  (after Brazil), in preference to a Chinese entity with comparatively little track record, who in the end delivered a malfunctioning range of technology that defied the comprehension of GuySuCo’s engineers, technologists and other operators (now described as ‘incompetents’); and, not to mention, that of the Board.

It must come now as a shocking revelation to the faithful, or generally under-informed, to learn that all they were previously told was an obfuscation of facts, by carefully contrived programmes of spin.

The profound truth (well known to informed analysts) has now publicly been urged that GuySuCo’s several strategic plans never admitted the dearth of competencies within the organisation, to manage and operate the wonders of the Skeldon factory.

But this is not to say that amongst the organisation’s decision-makers are those who are quite aware of a willing body of experienced relevant expertise available locally, which is not necessarily unfamiliar with the Skeldon Project. So it is reasonable to enquire why no attempt has been made at least to conduct an examination of their individual and collective capabilities, if not prior to, but alongside the predictably more expensive options now being confusingly touted as ‘ongoing,’ and on whom future dependence will be interminable, particularly if no performance monitoring and evaluation mechanism were put in place to measure effectiveness.

Incidentally the press release should be read alongside Professor Clive Thomas’ column of Stabroek News, August 21, in which he makes the indisputable point that the productivity of a sugar factory is directly related to the volume (and quality) of cane supplied; and vice versa. When in the case of Skeldon, for example, adequate and timely cane supply is so much dependent on a number of apprehensive cane farmers, there seems need for very close consultation between GuySuCo and the latter, most of whom are newer farmers than is the factory itself.

Therefore with the prospect of its management by a team deriving from a different business-management culture, it is only right that private farmers’ interest be protected – in the first instance, through a prior joint review with GuySuCo of the National Cane Farming Committee Act, and the accompanying Regulations, which contain the statutory contract required to be entered into between the ‘manufacturer’ and the ‘cane farmer’; and which also quite articulately addresses issues raised by Professor Thomas, about the testing for quality, and pricing, of canes sold and bought – an area of competency that may well have eluded GuySuCo’s more recent appointees in factory and field.

An obvious concern must be the identification and preparation of replacements of the overseas managers by an agreed target date – as part of an overall performance agreement, with appropriate benchmarks to be achieved. Hence the need for a monitoring and evaluation mechanism managed by specific technical competences – which are not necessarily represented by the current GuySuCo Board. The quality of training (involving the possible use of translators) will add to a predictably costly imposition on taxpayers.

One would also expect that both GAWU and NAACIE will have very active interests in the human relationships to be forged between the new managers and, expectedly, two sets of employees: theirs from overseas and the unions’. The latter must insist that the relevant regulatory authorities be consistent in dealing with labour relations issues at Skeldon as with procedures observed at sister estates, particularly bearing in mind the differentiations recently exhibited by the Ministry of Labour in matters affecting bauxite workers. These reservations should be firmly inked into the proposed management agreement. It is pertinent to note that there is the normal movement of labour, and the transfer of staff from time to time across GuySuCo’s various locations.

The portents suggest the need for a high level human resource management capability at this location when the time comes, possibly involving more directly the current Chairman of the Board (given his industrial relations qualifications) whose responsibilities in any case seem to have been usurped by the subject ministry.

At this juncture one can’t help speculating whether these developments were anticipated in the last (colour) print or plan.

It needs to be emphasised that the fundamental task is not so much the management and operation of the technology, difficult as predictably it will continue to be, but that of the equally predictable human relations problems which are bound to surface. The challenge will be of managing a group of demotivated ‘incompetents’ who are unlikely to succumb to a different cultural orientation.

Notwithstanding, there is no escaping the need for stringent accountability arrangements to be written into any contract.  Reporting relationships must be clearly specified, the latter preferably being totally organisational, and exclusive of political interventions.

In the face of these major challenges, it is churlish to utilise energy on ad hominem comments on other legitimate perspectives. It is even more disingenuous to exhume an impressionistic observation, on a fleeting visit by the late Winston Murray, to controvert the acknowledged depth of knowledge of an experienced sugar manager, who voiced apprehensions not unrelated to those expressed above.

The described ‘complexity’ of issues could only reflect a spurious appreciation of the industry, while being more easily comprehended by the dozens of committed former GuySuCo experts, on whose behalf this submission is made.

Incidentally one does not recall any public notification that the second crop has begun, with all estates grinding; and of the production targets to be achieved, individually and severally.

Yours faithfully,
E B John