Saying that sugar has all but collapsed with diminishing prospects for a turnaround, APNU’s Shadow Agriculture Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine used his budget speech in the National Assembly last week to call for a sustainable plan and better management to effectively reverse the industry’s fortunes.
Sugar production plummeted from 325,432 tonnes in 2004 to 189,000 tonnes in 2013, he observed, while noting that even the government’s current assessment is less optimistic when compared to previous budgets.
While Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh continues to point to additional financing being required to undertake further investments to complete the restructuring process in the industry, Roopnaraine opined that the focus ought to be on specific areas, such as identifying the specific management and operational resources involved, complemented by an audit of competencies, particularly of the management cadre.
He pointed out that government transferred a total of US$195 million to GuySuCo in support of various restructuring and turnaround initiatives between the period 2005 to 2013 yet the industry is in deep crisis.
“In his 2011 budget speech, the Hon. Minister told the nation that GuySuCo would be injecting $4.3 billion in capital works which would enable the company to recover its production levels and restore its financial performance; we need to know how these $4.3 billion were spent and if they were spent properly, why another $4 billion was needed,” Roopnaraine stated.
Further, he emphasised that recovery will require better management and less wishful thinking and added that there is urgent need for a new Board of Directors and in particular tried and tested people of proven competence and expertise, loyal only to the resurrection of the industry.
Roopnaraine went onto speak about the $6B subvention for the industry—which was eventually approved by the Committee of Supply on Wednesday—and he quoted directly from a Stabroek News editorial published on March 31, 2014, titled, “Budget 2014.”
The editorial included this observation: “Given the slumping production in recent years, the loss of a significant part of the labour force, poor field and agronomic practices, the size of the wage bill, impending negative developments in the EU market and the intractable problems at the Skeldon factory, the government has to lay out a convincing plan to the Assembly that GuySuCo will be able to begin a sustained turnaround as was the case in the early 1990s.”
Roopnaraine did not give attribution to the editorial during his remarks on sugar in his speech but he has since indicated that he corrected the omission in the version of his speech that has since been released to the press. He has indicated that he also requested that the Hansard Division take note of the omission and have it corrected in the record.