Workers of sugar divestment unit turned away from Enmore estate

The Guyana Sugar Corporation and the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) of NICIL are at loggerheads again over control of the estates which last weekend saw GuySuCo security barring SPU contracted engineers and other workers from entering the Enmore Estate.

“Security has special instructions about people coming to work and only following the order from higher up [of GuySuCo]. Like they don’t want them to go in or something between the two sides,” sources at GuySuCo told Stabroek News.

This newspaper understands that there was a standoff between the SPU maintenance workers and security personnel at the Enmore Estate on Saturday and yesterday.

Sources say when the SPU maintenance crew arrived at the estate they were told that their names were not left for security clearance and that they should leave. Calls were made by the security to GuySuCo’s Estate Manager but he informed them that he was not given a directive by management and as such the crew could not enter and had to leave. They showed up again yesterday and were met with the same response and vented their frustrations.

When Stabroek News visited the Enmore Estate yesterday the guard on duty said that he could not speak and pointed reporters to his supervisor “Sergeant Crandon” who was making his way out of the compound.

Crandon said that there was no problem with the SPU workers gaining entrance and it was “just a misunderstanding” where they came to someone specific but that person was not there.

But he said that the crew is expected to return today or tomorrow and will be granted full access as required.

It is not the first time that the two sides had tussled as last November, GuySuCo began moving machines and equipment from sugar estates billed to be sold or privatized to others that were functional claiming that they control the assets and not the SPU.

This newspaper understands also that government had written to GuySuCo about the shuffling of assets since while machines and other fixed assets are bought as GuySuCo’s they fall under the management and the inventory of a specific estate. In this way when the selected audit firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts its audit of GuySuCo it will also be able to categorize each estate’s assets and worth.

Then CEO, Errol Hanoman, had said that he did not see why the movement of machines from the estates would be an issue since they are all under GuySuCo’s management.

The SPU’s intention of keeping machines at the estates is linked with a recent decision the agency made to reopen the Skeldon and Enmore estates, re-employing a percentage of the severed cane cutters to utilize the over 300,000 tonnes of cane it has in the fields coupled with demonstrating to potential buyers that the estates are viable and as such can be sold as going concerns.

“They are looking at the Skeldon and Enmore estates where it will be reopened so that the canes that are there now can be utilized and show potential buyers that these are all working estates with assets… they will be sold as going concerns,” one source close to the industry told Stabroek News.

It is the SPU that will be now responsible for overseeing the management of the estates but it is unclear how the project would be executed.

Government last year announced that the Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore estates would be closed and by year end and  over 4,000 GuySuCo workers were given redundancy letters followed by the subsequent estate closures.

Minister of Finance Winston Jordan was asked last week by the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) about the reopening and said that the two estates could be reopened by the end of March. He added that the SPU would be seeking financing for the reopening.

“If they are closed then the interest of investors and how much you will be able to get from a buyer may be considerably less so the thinking is to keep them in motion,” NCN quoted Jordan as saying.

“The Special Purpose Unit of NICIL is in discussions with a bank to seek short-term financing to get these two operations going for the short term even as they pursue the parallel operation of getting these estates valued and attracting investors. My understanding is (there have been) more than seventy responses to the invitation for bids,” he also explained.

The government had been strongly criticized for allowing the severing of the over 4,000 GuySuCo workers without having options in place for them or evaluating the social impact of the job losses on their communities. It had also been pilloried on its unpreparedness to pay severance immediately to all the workers. Of the 4,763 severed workers, 1,851 are from the Skeldon Estate, 1,181 from Rose Hall, 1,480 from the East Demerara Estate and 251 from Wales.

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