Three companies, including two regional conglomerates, have expressed interest in taking over the shuttered Wales, West Bank Demerara sugar estate in a deal that is expected to see the development of significant agro-processing operations here.
Sources have told Sunday Stabroek that Banks DIH, ANSA McAL, of Trinidad and Tobago, and the GraceKennedy Group, of Jamaica, have expressed interest in the acquisition of the now defunct estate.
This newspaper understands that the companies have similar plans for the estate—investing in the planting of crops and their processing, mostly for export.
It is unclear how far the discussions have gone and what crops the companies have discussed growing and processing here; however, representatives from all the companies have had initial meetings with the authorities here.
Months after the APNU+AFC government ascended to office, it announced the restructuring of the Guyana Sugar Corporation, which it said had become unprofitable in its then form.
Contending that it was impossible to make sugar production at Wales viable, it was argued that closing the estate would allow improvements to be carried out on better performing estates. A decision was made to keep only three estates, with Wales falling into the category of four listed to be closed given its underperformance over the years. Wales was closed at the end of 2016 and government later established a Special Purpose Unit (SPU) within the state holding company, NICIL, to spearhead the divestment and privatisation of certain GuySuCo assets.
Additionally, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which was contracted by the SPU, last year began doing valuations of the assets of GuySuCo in order to better inform prospective investors.
Head of the SPU Colvin Heath-London has said that “the work of PwC, given their vast experience in this type of process, will help all decision makers to arrive at the best decisions for the assets of GuySuCo, for other businesses that are in the GuySuCo supply chain, and, most importantly, for the workers who are uncertain about their future.”
According to him, PwC will be entrusted with ensuring a level playing field for all interested parties and stakeholders as the process goes forward.
The SPU had also invited Letters of Interest “in the privatisation and/or diversification” of the Skeldon, Rose Hall, Wales and East Demerara (Enmore) sugar estates last year.
It is unclear if it was during that process that the three companies submitted their interest in purchasing the Wales estate.
Local rum producer Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) has already expressed interest in securing some assets of GuySuCo and is currently in a deal with the SPU where it is supplied with molasses from all of GuySuCo’s functioning estates.
However, its Chief Executive Officer Komal Samaroo has told this newspaper that while the company has an agreement with the SPU for molasses supplies, it has not yet determined if its required quota would be met.
“I cannot tell you at this time if we will get the required quota. They are still going through a process and so until that is completed would we know if we need more,” he said.
DDL is said to be interested in in purchasing the Enmore estate.
The purpose for Banks DIH wanting the estate was not disclosed but like DDL Banks makes rum and other alcoholic beverages.
GraceKennedy and ANSA McAL are both large agro-processers, with the former establishing a huge presence in Africa for its food products.
GraceKennedy’s website states that GraceKennedy Foods is the Food Trading segment of the GraceKennedy Group, the Caribbean’s leading distributor of food and non-food consumer products.
“Since its birth in 1922, GraceKennedy has provided authentic Caribbean food products to generations of people, earning along the way its familiar description–Grace, the Good Food People. Today, while continuing to serve the culinary needs of discerning Caribbean consumers, the company has expanded its range of products and reached out to international markets–in the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, India and now Africa,” the company’s profile states.
Meanwhile, the Trinidadian conglomerate ANSA McAL Group is no stranger to Guyana as it has had a presence here for over two decade. It had also expressed an interest in agriculture in this country’s intermediate savannahs for sugar cane cultivation.
But with frustrations reached under the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic government, the company seemed to have given up on that project.
A company profile tells of its history here. “At the beginning of the 1990s, the manufacturing arm of the ANSA McAL Group of Companies saw the opportunity for investment in Guyana and did so in Caribbean Container Incorporated, or at that time, the Seals and Packaging Industries Ltd (SAPIL). However, while that particular partnership faced some setbacks, ANSA McAL was undeterred and noticed that there was a need in the country for a more robust and service oriented distribution business. With an offering of just a handful of products, AMTL [ANSA McAL Trading Limited] was born in July, 1992. Operations began later that year in October when the company would have officially opened its doors at the SAPIL plant located at Farm, East Bank Demerara,” the company’s website states.
“Over the last 24 years, AMTL has experienced rapid growth and development in all areas of the business and has become an integral player in the economic activities of the country and this has helped to shape and enhance the way Guyana does business. In 2012, AMTL realised a turnover of over G$7 billion while increasing its staff compliment to over 160 employees. The company’s warehousing capacity also extended to approximately 53,000 sq feet. Such enormous growth can be directly attributed to a dynamic group of young administrative, marketing and sales professionals ably led by an energetic and visionary management team, all of whom remain committed to customer service and teamwork. In recognising the importance of placement, AMTL is strategically located for expansion at Beterverwagting on the East Coast Demerara. At present, the company has two warehouses with over 26,000 sq. ft, a branch in Berbice and partnerships in Essequibo,” it adds.