Despite exit from market, Alesie still supporting rice industry

– Doerga says change needed in agri ministry, GRDB to revive industry

Despite laying off some 600 workers in three years from five locations, ex-Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Alesie Group of Companies Dr Turhane Doerga says three of the mills will be up and running again as the company is working on partnering with local people to take over its management.

Speaking to Stabroek News on Thursday, Doerga confirmed that Alesie Rice would be leaving the Guyanese market after 25 years, but noted that it is forming joint ventures with groups of local Guyanese people to ensure the mills continue to run.

“Alesie doesn’t owe any banks or so and what we are doing now is all the rice mills we are making a joint venture with locals but Alesie is also financing it for them.

“The Ruimzigt Rice Mill and the two at Corriverton, we are in the process with a group of local Guyanese and they will buy the mills from us but we will also finance it,” Doerga explained, while pointing out that instead of the new operators going to the bank for financing, they will be able to purchase the mills and pay back the Alesie Group over a number of years.

“I don’t know why people think that when we said that Alesie is going away, what we mean is that the company itself will not have operations here but the operations will continue,” Doerga explained, while highlighting that Alesie Rice has been slowly downsizing over the years, with approximately 600 workers being laid off in three years from its Ruimzigt, Corriverton, Wakenaam and Essequibo locations.

While the Wakenaam and Essequibo mills have been sold, Doerga said the other three will be back up and running within a matter of months.

“The Alesie employees, most of them, over a period of time, already have been laid off and the bunch—approximately 60—which are left, we are trying the utmost to have them with the new people to continue. The industry should be a bright industry but it is going down at a rate that is really sad and people like myself can fix the industry back in over a crop but who do we talk to?” Doerga said, while pointing out while the Group itself is leaving, it is not leaving a vacuum behind and is doing all that it can to ensure that the mills continue to work. “…And when the proper adjustments are made in the management of the agriculture sector, we will be back because agriculture is Alesie’s business,” he added.

Reiterating the Group’s decision to pull out after more than two decades, Doerga explained that when he first came to the country, the rice industry was being privatised by the then president Desmond Hoyte and he assisted with the restructuring plan. “Rice prospered, sugar was in the process of being privatised but then in 1992 President Hoyte lost the election,” he said.

“When [Cheddi] Jagan had won and we had a meeting with him, he said he was pleased with the way the rice industry has developed and that we should continue and unfortunately for us he died and then Janet Jagan wanted to go back to the communist control and centralised rule where they wanted the rice mills back and they wanted to control the whole thing. So, we have behind us 15 years of misery with the PPP but every time, every single time we helped them when they asked for help,” Doerga said.

He explained that even though Alesie Rice was a major figure in the negotiation of the PetroCaribe deal with Venezuela, under which Guyana exported rice to Caracas as partial payment for oil imports, the previous administration cut the group out as soon as the deal was signed.

“We negotiated it and when the deal was signed they cut us out completely and Alesie’s licence was revoked in 2007 and suddenly overnight, all kind of PPP supporters became rice exporters,” Doerga explained, while stating that at the time their licence was revoked they had some 18,000 tonnes of rice, which they were forced to pay other millers to export.

“They removed it on the grounds that we did not pay farmers and after even though they took us to court, we won the case and they made an appeal but the rice farmers came down and made an uproar and we got back our licence after a year. We continued doing our business at a much smaller scale,” he said.

Doerga noted that since then the Group had started to scale down its operations.

He pointed out that the Group was hoping that the change in government would have resulted in a fair and favourable rice industry, but he lamented that this has not happened. “We have not had change but an exchange,” Doerga proclaimed, while highlighting that the persons who are currently in charge of the rice industry, including Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder and the Guyana Rice Development Board, need to be changed if the rice industry is to show any progress. “In the next three years, rice is going down but it is not too late and we can arrest it. When Alesie came and every time there was a rice crisis, we fixed it. I feel really bad that Alesie decided to go but I live here and we will continue to see what we can do,” he said, while claiming that the current Ministry of Agriculture is continuing to implement the previous administration’s detrimental policies in the industry.

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