Following the clearing of the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s $6 billion subvention by Parliament’s Committee of Supply, Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy has met with members of the opposition to iron out the criteria for members of the new Board of Directors.
Ramsammy told Stabroek News that he met with APNU’s shadow minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine on Wednesday and that they “agreed on certain principles.” He that he was open to recommendations from both Roopnaraine and Khemraj Ramjattan, Leader of the Alliance For Change.
The minister stated that it was still Cabinet’s ultimate decision to approve the board when Stabroek News asked if the criteria being discussed were mandatory prior to names being selected. Ramsammy said that the ideas proposed by the opposition member did not differ from the current established criteria.
Dr Roopnaraine told Stabroek News that this was the last chance the APNU was willing to give GuySuCo. He expressed that the outcome of the new GuySuCo board will tell APNU how serious the government is about overhauling the sugar industry. The subvention makes a total of $11B in three years for the heavily-indebted company which has seen slumping production in recent years.
Roopnaraine said that the new board had to be politically diverse and more importantly proficient, comprising of agronomists as well as financial experts. He said that APNU would be vigilant in reminding the agriculture minister that he had promised the National Assembly to provide quarterly updates on GuySuCo’s status.
“Reports to track the changes that are being made actively in GuySuCo and that involved giving us production figures that included … what the factories are doing what’s happening in the fields what’s the progress of the mechanization process, all of these things we want to see on a regular basis”, Roopnaraine stated.
Stabroek News inquired if the initiative to meet with the agriculture minister was taken prior to the passing of the $6 billion subvention, which surprised many as the opposition had been very vocal that it would most likely be cut during consideration of the budget estimates. Roopnaraine stated that causing stress to the livelihood of sugar workers was never the intention, rather it was the need to overhaul the management and the board of GuySuCo to ensure that the money being allocated was spent properly.
Speaking with Stabroek News on Thursday, Ramjattan said that while he was unable attend Wednesday’s meeting he was already consulting with industry experts to ensure that the AFC’s criteria for board members was well thought out. He agreed with Roopnaraine that the board had to comprise of agricultural scientists who would be knowledgeable in understanding the changing landscape of sugar production in Guyana.
Ramjattan said that agronomists, water hydrologists and cane specialists needed to sit on GuySuCo’s board along with persons with the financial experience in dealing with highly indebted companies.
He said that for his part the agriculture minister has been providing him with relevant information into GuySuCo’s current situation which Ramjattan has asked specifically about during the budget considerations.
Ramjattan denied that during the first meeting of the subcommittee established to facilitate negotiations on contentious estimates at the Committee of Supply that GuySuCo was discussed. He said that after the sugar subvention was passed the entire subcommittee collapsed so it was never utilised for its intended purpose. Ramjattan said that meeting with Ramsammy and Roopnaraine may yield better results as the agriculture ministry and GuySuCo will be pressed on board and management specific questions.
The decision by the combined opposition not to cut the $6 billion sugar subvention was met with surprise. The government’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira stated that the opposition’s decision may have been swayed by the protesting sugar workers outside of Parliament on April 7 and by the agricultures minister’s assurance that information requested would be provided to the National Assembly.