Prospective executive chairman of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Raj Singh will not be receiving a $5 million monthly salary or a $3 million tax free monthly salary, Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh said yesterday.
Instead, he said, “my information is that the individual concerned will not be paid any more than the last full-time CEO”. Stabroek News clarified that the minister was in fact referring to former GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer Errol Hanoman and his $2.5 million-a-month salary.
Raj Singh is the current chairman of the Board of Directors of GuySuCo and it was revealed that the GuySuCo Board was in negotiations to reposition the chairman with a new salary package including two additional homes.
Speaking at the PPP/C weekly press conference yesterday, Dr Singh stated that while he did not wish to speak on individual members of the GuySuCo Board, he would make an exception as regards the proposed executive chairman. He said he was doing so because of the public speculation that was being fuelled, “and again this is another example of numbers being plucked out of thin air and being put in the public domain for the purpose of generating political controversy.”
Dr Singh stated that to discuss the credentials of board members was in poor taste. “While I don’t believe the individual concerned needs me to offer a defence of his credentials, I will say that he is eminently qualified, has worked in sugar for a number of years at indeed senior levels, [and] has expertise in areas relevant to the management to a large organisation like the sugar company,” the minister said.
He did not delve further into the GuySuCo chairman’s actual accomplishments, nor did he provide specifics as to where the chairman would have acquired the relevant experience. He said the media’s focus on the GuySuCo Board was unwarranted. “The composition of the board is reflective of this… a particular set of skills and backgrounds it was felt and is felt that the composition of the board is responsive of this need,” he said.
Both the APNU and the AFC have requested more information and transparency during the restructuring of the GuySuCo Board. The opposition parties expressed concerns that the current chairman does not have the correct qualifications to head the largest employer in Guyana.
Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan had stated previously that the sugar company does not need an executive chairman in its present circumstances.
He noted that the chairman has had a longtime friendship with President Donald Ramotar and is the leader of the PPP/C’s largest Diaspora fundraising group, the Association of Concerned Guyanese in New York.
Dr Singh stated that AFC was inclined to believe that it had all the answers to solving the woes of the sugar industry. He said the chairman’s possible salary was being used to incite frustration among the general public. “What is alarming is the political opportunism that is being displayed by the opposition in seeking to make GuySuCo and the sugar industry and by extension the livelihoods of the sugar workers a political football,” Dr Singh said, continuing that “you see all manner of reckless comments… Sometimes numbers are being plucked out of thin air.”
The finance minister, while professing minimal knowledge of the sugar industry, stated that government has always displayed a “willingness” to face challenges and asks for assistance. However, some of the most prominent and vocal industry experts such as Anthony Vieira, agricultural engineer Beni Sankar and renowned scientist Dr Nazeer Ahmad, who extensively studied tropical soil throughout the Caribbean, have been excluded from GuySuCo’s strategic planning.
Dr Singh said the opposition was well within its rights to request another evaluation by the Economic Services Committee, which, in the Ninth Parliament subjected the industry to the ultimate degrees of scrutiny by the opposition when then minister of agriculture Robert Persaud had to provide what Dr Singh called copious amounts of relevant information as to the inner workings of the industry.
Addressed the change in global weather patterns, Dr Singh noted that the President’s recent remarks on restructuring GuySuCo would deal directly with the cause and effect of changing weather. He said that while government was committed to sugar there had to be the realisation that weather dictates a large percentage of opportunity days and the feasibility of mechanisation of the industry.
The PPP said the President’s promise on April 28 when he said, “the problems being experienced in the sugar industry would largely be resolved through urgent reorganisation that will have to take place in the industry,” was the main priority of the industry at this point.