In an earlier letter in Kaieteur News (Nov 27, 2015), I examined the changes in the work ethic among the ordinary workers of the Guyana Sugar Corporation, as seen through the eyes of persons who have long been associated with the industry. I was later criticized – and maybe rightly so – for being unfairly biased against the ordinary workers and for not examining the role and performance of managers in bringing the industry to where it is today.
The blame for the decline in the sugar industry can never be apportioned equally among all stakeholders – some must take a greater share of that blame. I am still convinced that the lack of strong commitment on the part of our rank and file workers has done more damage than any of the other stakeholders when examined separately. In this regard I risk being accused of prejudice if I should fail to examine the role of poor managerial performance, and particularly the betrayal of trust by some managers, especially in light of the recent revelations about corrupt activities on two of the Berbice estates.
In one case operatives of the Prime Minister’s office discovered a large quantity of fertilizers belonging to GuySuCo in the possession of a private individual. This was happening when other estates carried large acreages of unfertilized canes, due to a shortage of fertilizers. There are indications that this state of affairs has been going on for some time now. The modus operandi, as described in the media, clearly indicates that what has been happening would have had to involve a number of officials in a well-organised racket.
In the second case, a sustained pattern of falsification of technical production data is likely to be far more injurious to the estate and company, than the theft of fertilizers. For those who understand sugar production from both the field and factory perspectives, the manipulation of production data can conceal many deficiencies and acts of fraud at several points in the production cycle. Such practices can mislead technicians and more senior managers into believing that all is well, and may actually lead to cases where the concealed problems reach such points that they can no longer be easily fixed.
The incidents on the two estates are probably unrelated, but together they point to a potentially more serious and latent problem across the industry. Accusations and actual discovery of acts of fraud and willful negligence in the sugar industry are nothing new. And how they have been dealt with, is also nothing new! If this new administration is serious about turning around the sugar industry it cannot take the same approach to acts of managerial corruption, as had been done in the past.
To begin with, in both recent instances cited, it required the vigilance and determination of persons outside of the respective estates to uncover the acts of fraud and to initiate proceedings. This says a lot about the estates’ ability and willingness to self-audit their own operations. Usually with each discovered fraud, the number of persons ensnared and the depth of organizational penetration that has occurred, gets larger as the investigation progresses. Often the investigation reaches someone who is ‘untouchable’ and collapses. It would often seem that the willingness to proceed with investigations to their logical conclusion is hampered by the sheer number of persons involved. Of course, some are keepers of secrets for others, and to ‘rat’ on one, risks yourself being exposed.
And this is the very reason that GuySuCo has seldom ever been willing and able to successfully prosecute someone for fraud in a court of law. Until such a time that this is done on a meaningful scale, the message would never get through.
When someone has been found guilty of fraud, or any act tantamount to a betrayal of managerial trust, that person is more likely than not, given a pat on the wrist. The manager is usually transferred to another estate, and the issue is forgotten. When the web of persons involved is even larger, to lessen the fall-out a softer approach is often taken.
Such approaches have deleterious effects on the morale of the company’s management and supervisory levels, and opens the floodgates for ridicule from the ordinary workers. When a manager who has been found guilty, or complicit in some way of being involved in a fraud, is transferred to another estate, it affects how others who work diligently and honestly, see the value of their position, role and contribution in the organisation. Such movements send out two very disturbing messages to others in positions of authority and responsibility
For the many who devote themselves to their jobs, it says that you are an equal with the dishonest and crooked. To others, it says that any amount of negligence and complicity can be tolerated by the organization, and that should you try what others have done, you too will get off.
The new government and the new board of directors of GuySuCo, must accept that while we will continue to hammer away at the ordinary worker to better his performance on the job, it is very important at this point in time that you do not fall into the trap of sending mixed messages to the different levels of employee in the company.
There can only be one message. Please rethink carefully what has to be done with those found culpable and condoning.