GuySuCo’s primary problem is not in industrial relations it is production and productivity

Dear Editor,

How could a Chairman say at GuySuCo’s Honour Roll function in June “…let us use this moment of celebration to reflect on those things that we did wrong and those things that we know we could have done better,” when his lack of leadership remains one of the core reasons for the failure at GuySuCo?  His Board did not conduct itself with professionalism by carrying out a proper due diligence on the Turnaround Plan or the Jagdeo white elephant at Skeldon. From my observation, the entire agriculture machinery from the then Minister down, were clueless and did not seek to interrogate those plans carefully.

Anyone who knows sugar will tell you that the Indians, the Australians, the Americans, the English, the South Africans and the Brazilians know about sugar, but China certainly does not have the expertise to build any state-of-the-art sugar factory.  So Guyana got shafted in the end, thanks to the incompetence of the GuySuCo Board, which has only broken promises to its name, viz:

1. failure to establish and implement the regulatory framework to restructure the industry to make it more productive (plenty verbal hogwash from the Board but very few operational and field successes);

2. failure to increase production to 300,000 tons by 2003 as promised. 130,000 tons, one of its worst years comparable to the PNC days.

3. This Board of Directors promised all and sundry that they will expand cultivation in low cost areas – mainly Berbice ‒ and combine the administrative office and merge factory operations in the high cost areas of Demerara to reduce unit cost.  All of this was supposed to be signed, sealed and delivered by 2010.  Even if we bolt-on two more years as compensation for the 2005 floods, GuySuCo still could not meet its promise.  More Jagdeoism – much talk; little progressive action.

For years now, the West Demerara estates have been grinding at a loss compared to Berbice but this Board did very little in terms of new policy measures to deal with the real issues.  Kicking the can down the road is their kind of public policy.  In any business, such gross incompetence would have been rewarded with the summary dismissal of the entire Board.  However, under the PPP, such incompetence is deserving of a promotion.

I appeal to the majority opposition to forewarn the Government of Guyana, that until a competent Board is in place, then the Parliament should not be called upon to approve any transfer of funds to GuySuCo especially in the 2014 Budget.  If the PPP wants to keep the Raj Singh Board in place, then let them draw the billions from NICIL (the holding company for all state-owned entities such as GuySuCo) to fund any future losses.  No one is against supporting the sugar industry but let us use the public funds in the lotto funds and at NICIL to carry the burden; not subject the taxpayers to fewer benefits.

Any patriot will support the use of the largesse in NICIL’s bank account to fund the workers in the sugar belt rather than some foreign worker at that Kingston Hotel now being constructed.  It is just anti-national to fund persons with taxpayers’ money who have no Guyanese residency, pays no Guyanese taxes, and have no social responsibility to this country. If NICIL can fund a hotel, it can fund GuySuCo!

The Minister of Finance stated that Mr Raj Singh is “eminently qualified, has worked in sugar for a number of years at a senior level, [and] has expertise in areas relevant to the management of a large organisation like the sugar company.” According to the GuySuCo Newsletter from October 2007, Mr Singh “joined the Sugar Industry in 1975 as an Industrial Relations Officer and left the industry as a Regional Industrial Relations Manager.”  He never functioned at any senior level in the sugar industry.  He was never part of the factory team or the field team; he was a desk manager who had limited experience on the estates, the core of the industry.  So clearly the Minister has been misadvised.

He then migrated to the USA and after some studies, worked at the City University of New York (CUNY), an integrated system of 23 community colleges for some 20 odd years. Mr Raj Singh works at one of these 23 colleges – Baruch College, in the Human Resources Department ending up finally as a Head of a Division within the Human Resources Department called Human Resources Planning & Technology where he is still employed as I was reliably advised by a senior CUNY official. For the record, CUNY defined a community college as a non-resident junior college offering courses to people living in a particular area.

The Minister of Finance clearly was gaffing with the media on Mr Raj Singh since I did not realize that CUNY is a sugar estate in the Caribbean with 15,000 cane cutters that has major operational problems in the fields and factories.

Let us give credit where it is due: Mr Raj Singh clearly knows his way around the Human Resources Department of a university or even the Industrial Relations Department in the sugar industry at a middle management level, but to strategise for the sugar industry at the highest level is way out of his area of expertise.  GuySuCo’s primary problem is not industrial relations; it is production and productivity; it is the efficiency of the field and factories and how to turn around that Jagdeo’s treasure which was bequeathed to the people of Guyana ‒ the Skeldon Sugar Factory.

I close my case and leave it up to the people, especially the sugar workers, the parliamentarians and civil society to pass their judgment and take the necessary action including passing a motion of no-confidence in the current GuySuCo Board in Parliament.  These are measures to register with the power brokers in Guyana that the majority in Parliament will not allow the PPP to destroy the sugar belt. Some 100,000 mouths depend on GuySuCo making the right turn.

Yours faithfully,
Sasenarine Singh

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