Grinding at Skeldon estate delayed again

-wet conditions cited, labour shortage seen

Inclement weather is being blamed again for the delay of grinding at the Skeldon factory for the crucial second crop and  work is still underway at the factory to solve problems left by the China National Technology Import and the Export Corporation (CNTIC), the original contractors.

Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corpora-tion, Paul Bhim told Stabroek News on Monday that unfortunately the level of mechanization at Skeldon meant that the persistent rains have delayed grinding until Saturday. Originally Skeldon was to commence grinding tomorrow, already late for the second crop.

Bhim said that the ground conditions have been extremely wet over the course of July and the beginning of August while a lack of cane cutters was also an issue. Bhim noted that the weather has not been kind to the industry during the second crop, “Rose Hall is actually the only estate that is doing bell loading…the rest are manual.”

Bhim noted that the weight of the bell loaders made their use non-viable during rainy weather. He stated that the lack of workers was thus now an issue. He said that the industry was operating with approximately a 60 percent deficiency in the workforce though this was not the final figure as Skeldon had not commenced grinding.

GAWU’s head Komal Chand had previously noted that the average number of cane cutters across the industry was in the range of 5,800 at any given point in the season. Bhim told Stabroek News that the deficiency was a real issue and that workers can only do so much manually.

GuySuCo’s CEO noted that so far Enmore was the only estate that was grinding on a regular basis,  “every second day”. He said that “crushing is in and out at the moment.”

When Stabroek News enquired how much cane had been ground to date during the second crop, which has to make 192,000 tonnes of sugar to satisfy the 2013 target of 240,000 tonnes and the critical EU sugar quota, Bhim said that the information had to be released by the board.  Obser-vers have expressed great surprise at this position. In previous years production data had been released by GuySuCo’s communications department on a weekly basis. Observers say it appears that the corporation is unwilling to routinely provide the figures because of the continuing poor results.

The first crop of 2013 made a dismal 48,000 tonnes, a whopping 23,000 tonnes short of the 71,000-tonne target. Critics have continuously asked for GuySuCo to be more forthcoming with results. Even the main sugar union GAWU has stated that it has failed to receive monthly updates in a timely manner from the corporation.

Bhim continued that the cane on the ground was yet another issue and that Enmore was grinding every second day because there just isn’t enough cane. Industry experts have previously argued that GuySuCo’s  fields are in a state of disarray and do not contain enough canes because of lax replanting and poor husbandry over a number of years.

Although GuySuCo continues to acknowledge various deficiencies in the sector, when asked directly if meeting the second crop target was plausible, it has repeatedly stated that it was better to remain optimistic. Critics of the industry have noted that optimism does very little without a strategic plan to properly tackle the various issues such as factory failures, agronomy of the fields, worker shortages et al.

Back in June, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had promised that a strategic plan for 2013-2017 was forthcoming. He made the announcement at the signing of the 2012 Financing Agreement for the Guyana Annual Action Programme on Accompanying Measures for Sugar Protocol countries worth over $6.3 billion from the European Union.  Two months later, however,  there is still no word from either the government or GuySuCo on any such plan or why the previous one failed.

On the troubled flagship Skeldon factory, Bhim revealed that the rehabilitation work was ongoing. He noted that once the factory began grinding however whatever further work was needed would have to wait until the season was over.

Bhim noted that the factory had to address issues with a punt dumper while noting that all of the estates required upkeep throughout the off season. Bhim made mention of the rehabilitation contracted out to the South African firm, Bosch Engineering. He said that “we have paid all of the money, so we have completed in a sense the work that needed to be done”. The GuySuCo CEO did not however reveal just how much the contract was worth. He said that the company has been forthcoming in relation to the cost of the work.  When asked point blank what the cost was Bhim evaded the question reiterating that estimates have been provided to the media on multiple occasions. Stabroek News was unable to find any such information in its archives. The question was also raised previously with the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who also dodged the question. Critics have said that the additional expense should never have been incurred since the Chinese company CNTIC was supposed to produce a working turnkey factory.

At the recent three-day 30th PPP congress held in Port Mourant, Berbice where major sugar cultivation takes place, President and General Secretary of the party, Donald Ramotar made only fleeting mention of the ailing industry. He said during his general secretary’s report that the industry was in need of “understanding and help”. He also noted that the sector was in striking contrast to the growth in rice industry. The president delved no further into the topic and neither did the various other speakers at the congress. Observers said this was surprising given the dire state of the industry.

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