Government secured the opposition’s support for a crucial $6 billion GuySuCo subvention yesterday as the Committee of Supply began consideration of estimated spending for the year.
“GuySuCo needs it,” a relieved Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy told Stabroek News.
During the consideration, Ramsammy stated that of the $6 billion, over $1 billion would go into the mechanisation
of fields and the elimination of the fifth ratoon canes. He stated that an additional $2 billion would be spent on the upgrading of factories, including the troubled Skeldon factory.
Despite approval, AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan stated that Dr Ramsammy’s answers were at times vague and that the factory rehabilitation, in particular, needed to be provide in an itemised list.
Ramsammy stated that all of the amounts allocated for each factory would be provided to the House today and he said the ministry would provide lists by the end of the week if there were any other amount that needed to be broken down and determined.
Members of the opposition flooded Ramsammy with questions, but remained dedicated in pursuing answers about how GuySuCo plans to overhaul the industry and if the $6 billion requested would be enough.
APNU MP Carl Greenidge noted that GuySuCo was requested to submit its 2013-2017 Strategic Plan and he opined that prior to passing the agriculture budget measures needed to be in place to allow for a more competent Board of Directors.
He said that the first few years of the Strategic Plan have proved to be heavily flawed and that the ministry needed to rework the plan. Greenidge stated that the proposals Ramsammy had suggested were not possible and requested a more comprehensive reality of GuySuCo’s current position. He told the minister that the opposition was interested in the immediate situation and what GuySuCo planned to do to address the two years of revised targets that have already been called for although the Strategic Plan was only completed in July of 2013.
Dr Ramsammy stated that a revision of the plan was underway and would be completed in July and will coincide with the operationalising of the new board. The minister also stated that GuySuCo will be providing quarterly reports to the National Assembly but he did not indicate when this would commence.
He also noted that the salary of current CEO Raj Singh would be the same package as previous CEO’s but he did not provide the figure and instead stated that the board was currently working on it.
Errol Hanoman, GuySuCo CEO from 2009 to 2010, was paid $2.5 million monthly. The salary of the acting CEO of GuySuCo from 2010 to 2014, Paul Bhim, was never made public.
Meanwhile, AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo reiterated that a financial audit, forensic audit or a commission of inquiry needed to be done on the state-owned entity. Speaker Raphael Trotman even suggested that a value-for-money audit could be another avenue.
Nagamootoo said that the opposition could not be accused of attempting to “cleanse” the industry if there was not full disclosure of where the $11 billion allocated since 2012 has gone.
He said that the AFC was concerned that the money had been “watered down” and that spending an additional $6 billion without any real information was not how to optimise and overhaul the struggling sugar sector.
Nagamootoo requested that the full amount of GuySuCo’s debt be made public and Ramsammy stated that he would need to provide the information at a later date.
The AFC Chairman said that the ministry would need to determine if this $6 billion would be for the entire year or whether an additional supplementary would be requested to assist with the huge wage bill. In 2013, an additional $4 billion was approved to pay out the Annual Production Incentive to sugar workers.
The other contentious issue was the $1.2 billion allocated for the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) and which Ramsammy said will be the responsibility of the authority.
He admitted that there have been issues with providing records to the Auditor General in the past but added that the NDIA was audited in 2012, when questioned by APNU’s Volda Lawrence. He said that in 2013 an additional $300 million in supplementary funds were requested and that while he hoped the $1.2 billion allocation would be adequate he could not say at this point whether more money would be needed to complete projects later in the year.
After four hours of questioning, the $9 billion allotted under subsidies, both the current and capital expenditures under the ministry’s budget were approved.
Prior to the beginning of the consideration of the estimates a group of sugar workers protested for a short while outside Parliament. Their slogans and placards indicated that they had expected the GuySuCo subvention to come under the knife. However, they left before the session started.