The Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment should make haste with caution

Dear Editor,

The sugar industry has compiled a remarkable record in terms of policy and management under the direction of the last Minister of Agriculture.

Coming on top of the initial Strategic Plan (1998-2008), there have been turn-around plans, strategic blueprints and other coloured versions. There have been pronouncements of a) employing Cuban sugar boilers; b) management of the Skeldon Factory by Indian or Chinese companies. Then there was the establishment of various supervisory committees; the appointment and withdrawal of Regional Directors, and myriad ad hoc operational changes  which cumulatively failed to stem the almost irreversible haemorrhaging of the Guyana Sugar Corporation.

Egregiously, there was the persistent bypassing of the Board and its Chairman, with operational decisions being unilaterally made – even to visit an outbreak of fire at an estate factory. Also there was the formal enquiry into a death at the new packaging plant at Enmore Estate, following the unannounced closure of the LBI factory.  But perhaps the most fundamental of all was the total emasculation of the human resources function in the most populated industry, or other economic activity, in the country.

The record of palpable micro-management and other performance deficits cumulate to a Mixed Bag of Attributes, in a management sense; but it represents the credentials of the incumbent of the new Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

It is in this connection that one is truly concerned about some of the pre-emptive statements published about the new Minister’s intention to reconstruct the management component of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.

The saying goes that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. The Minister should therefore be advised to make haste with caution – and to eschew stage presentations that are not necessarily supported in law – in the particular case, Act No 9 of 1979, establishing the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. The Act sets out, amongst others, certain provisions immediately relevant to this discourse:

Section 4(1)   – The function of the Commission, sub para (f) of which states:
“to carry on all activities, the carrying on of which appears to the Commission to be requisite, advantageous or convenient for, or in connection with, the exercise of its functions.”

The above and other parts of this Section clearly establish the Commission’s responsibility for the management of the organisation (with approval of the Minister, except in the case where the Minister is Chairman of the Commission).  Such a development however will set an historic precedent.

Section 5 (1) authorises the Commission to employ and set “such remuneration and other terms and conditions…”

Section 5 (2) identifies the Commissioner as the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission.

Section 26 provides for the Commission to “at any time retain the services of professional persons and pay such remuneration… as the Commission may determine.”

Section 31 (1) states: “The Minister may give to the Commission directions of a general character as to the policy to be followed by the Commission in the performance of its functions and the Commission shall give effect to those directions.”

The first Schedule of the Act indicates the constitution of the Commission as follows:

“1. (1) The Commission shall consist of –

a)     the Chairman who shall be appointed by the Minister, but if no person is so appointed, the Minister shall be the Chairman of the Commission;

b)    the Commissioner;

c)    not more than twelve other persons appointed by the Minister.

2.    The names of the members of the Commission as first constituted and every change in the membership thereof shall be notified in the Gazette.”

In light of the above it would appear most appropriate for the President, who initiated the formation of the new ministry, to ensure that the responsibility delegated to the Minister is exercised in compliance with the relevant laws, thereby ensuring stability and coordinated long-term development of both natural and human resources of this economic sector, as priority over the achievement of short-term personalised gains.

Transparency and mutual trust are key elements to progress at this watershed juncture of the country’s viability. Any attempted efforts of ‘cooperative governance’ in parliament will only be rendered more tenuous when not honoured at the management and operational levels of public organisations.

All the stakeholders should take heed and ensure that the adventurous forays which by-passed structured communication channels, and either ignored, or crippled the legitimate decision-making processes in the sugar industry, are not replicated.

Certainly, one does not expect that the current chairman of the Commission will accept his role and respect for its authority, being compromised.

Yours faithfully,
E B John

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