The much anticipated Commission of Inquiry (COI) report into the sugar industry will be tabled in the National Assembly on Wednesday having received the go-ahead from Cabinet on Tuesday.
“The Commission of Inquiry’s report into the operations of the sugar industry with recommendations for a way forward for the industry have been received and having been considered by Cabinet, will be laid in the Parliament next week whence it will be considered by the Economic Services Committee (ESC),” Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder told reporters at the ministry’s year-end press briefing yesterday.
“Cabinet made a decision that we will table the report in parliament so we will have maximum discussion on the issue,” he added. Holder did not expand on the intended process moving forward with the report other than to state that after Wednesday it will be in the public domain.
The report was initially due to be presented to Holder on September 30 but this was postponed and it was presented to him on October 19. The minister had told Stabroek News that after a retreat on November 28, Cabinet was expected to make a decision on the sugar industry come December 1. A second retreat was held on December 18 but the report has not been released.
Holder yesterday defended the retreats held without President David Granger and said during cabinet discussions, the President seemed very aware of the contents of the report.
The minister did not expand on the report’s findings and any recommendations on the way forward.
Questions had been raised as to why the government had not released the report earlier and taken action on its findings. The forwarding of the report to the ESC will further attenuate the decision-making process on the sugar industry, observers say.
Stabroek News asked Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Errol Hanoman about possible layoffs considering the amount of money spent on wages and salaries and he referred the question back to the minister.
Hanoman, however, revealed that the corporation has made some strides in debt reduction. The figure now stands at $78.6B down from $82B, a figure that was reported when GuySuCo went before the ESC in July 2014.
GuySuCo’s CEO was positive that there would be solutions in the report that would address the state- owned company’s huge debt.
Hanoman also spoke briefly about Enmore Crystals, a packaged brown sugar aimed at replacing Demerara Gold in the North American market.
In March GuySuCo’s legal woes with Bedessee Imports Ltd came to an end as it was found that the latter was legally entitled to use the Demerara Gold name on its products in North America. Bedessee and GuySuCo had been at odds since 2010 when the former sued the latter and the Government of Guyana over the trademark.
According to a ruling in 2010 by Canadian Judge G.R. Strathy “moving rapidly forward well into the 20th century,” Bedessee’s uncontradicted evidence is that it has been using the name “Demerara Gold” as a trademark for sugar and other products in Canada and the United States since at least 1984. On the other hand GuySuCo’s evidence is that, prior to 2003, its marketing was relatively unsophisticated.
Asked about his take on whether or not GuySuCo would be willing to challenge rulings using a defence based on geography, as Demerara is geographically contained in Guyana, Hanoman said “I think we have lost that opportunity and I think the word Demerara is now more a generic term that is used to describe a type of brown sugar.”
The CEO said with Enmore Crystals, the corporation is hoping to increase sales in 2016 as it was only this year that the concept was realised.
Meantime, as of yesterday, GuySuCo’s second crop production was over 149,000 tonnes of sugar bringing total annual production to roughly 230,000 tonnes of sugar surpassing the 227,443 revised target for 2015. The original 2015 target set by the corporation was 241,503 at the beginning of the first crop.
It was also revealed that talks with regards to the Annual Production Incentive (API) for sugar workers are ongoing and are at the conciliation state. Additionally, wage negotiations will commence in 2016.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) had accused GuySuCo of stalling. “Obviously they would like to stall and drag out the negotiations. The crop will come to an end and the workers will not be able to engage in strike action in furtherance of their just claims. That is their [GuySuCo] strategy all the time. They had three bilaterals with us [and] they haven’t moved,” head of the union, Komal Chand had told Stabroek News earlier in December.