Sugar retreat ends, no word on decisions

Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry, Vibert Parvatan says that the retreat on Saturday aimed at familiarising members of cabinet with the report ended with Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo declaring that more dialogue may be necessary.

Up to press time, there was no statement by the government on the outcome of the retreat or the long-awaited findings of the CoI. The APNU+AFC government ordered a Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry which began its work on July 1st this year. Given the dire state of the industry there was an expectation that some concrete steps would have already been announced.

Parvatan told Stabroek News yesterday that all he could confirm was that the retreat was held on Saturday and CoI commissioners who had submitted reports during the inquiry were given a chance to present directly to cabinet. He noted that it was an open forum where members of cabinet sought clarifications on the contents of the report.

The need for further dialogue is not in keeping with Agriculture Minister Noel Holder’s most recent remarks to Stabroek News. He had stated that after the retreat cabinet is expected to make a decision on the sugar industry come December 1.

Parvatan told Stabroek News that while no date has been set for the commission and cabinet to continue discussions he was unable to expand further on the retreat. “I must apologise for my inability to provide answers to your searching issues until the government makes a statement”, he said.

The retreat was attended by the members of cabinet, however President David Granger was not in attendance as he was in Malta at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Also missing from the retreat was Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge who has extensive knowledge of the sugar industry. He was also in Malta. Errol Hanoman, Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation was in attendance but the company’s Director of Finance Paul Bhim was not present.

According to sources, Dr Clive Thomas, Chairman of GuySuCo and CoI Commissioner presented to those in attendance a financial plan that outlined the creation of a special holding company that would comprise of various subsidiaries.

Stabroek News understands that Thomas called for two subsidiaries as soon as possible: one that would focus on the packaging of sugar at the Enmore Packaging Plant and the other to allow for the Skeldon Co-generation Plant to sell energy through a different financial framework than existed prior to its buyout by the Guyana Power and Light subsidiary created by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) earlier this year.

GuySuCo is currently trying to buy back the co-generation plant after selling it earlier this year while the PPP/C was in office to the special purpose company, Skeldon Energy Inc for US$30M.

Stabroek News was told by numerous sources that they found the forum productive. This newspaper was also told that there was some level of unpreparedness by members of cabinet who were not fully abreast of what the report contained.

When asked, Parvatan told Stabroek News that he could only confirm that the session was productive but he would refrain from commenting on what was discussed during the roughly four-hour retreat. He noted once again that the government will make a statement and prior to that he would not be offering any further commentary.

The CoI report was handed to the Minister of Agriculture since October 20. He had told Stabroek News just under three weeks after that a cabinet retreat was planned on November 28 to further discuss and seek clarification from the commissioners.

Concerns were raised as the president would not have been able to attend the retreat due to his Commonwealth obligation.

Holder had previously told this publication “what cabinet is saying… This is too important of a decision to be made at a cabinet meeting, you want a special retreat…for the COI to come and present its finding to the cabinet alone.”

He had said specifically, for his ministry, he has requested additional information from the commission as it related to “finances” and “economic aspects” of the individual estates.

The continued sequestering of the CoI report and absence of action will have a significant impact on the sugar industry as sugar workers have downed their tools in two industry-wide strikes since the report was submitted to the agriculture ministry. GuySuCo has refused to discuss wages and incentives, the Annual Production Incentive and retroactive pay stating that it was awaiting the release of the report and decisions on it. The sugar unions while acknowledging the importance of the CoI and its report contend that GuySuCo remains in breach of the Trade Union Recognition Act with or without the release of the sugar report.

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