While noting that the government has the authority to intervene in the appointment of the board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday said that the matter is presently engaging the attention of Cabinet, which is seeking to select persons who have knowledge about the industry.
“The matter is before Cabinet. Cabinet is deliberating on it and at the appropriate time a cabinet decision will be made,” he said when asked during a post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency.
Several weeks ago, confusion erupted after it was advertised that Colvin Heath-London, who heads the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) overseeing the divestment of some of GuySuCo’s assets, was the new Chairman of the GuySuCo Board. The impression was created that Professor Clive Thomas was no longer performing that function. However, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan later clarified that Thomas remained Chairman as Cabinet had deferred a decision on a replacement. Cabinet documents appointing Heath-London and a new board had been sent out without approval of the full Cabinet and these appointments were to be recalled.
Harmon informed that during the last cabinet meeting on Tuesday, there was a “healthy” discussion and debate on the matter.” Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo Paul Bhim and Heath-London were present and “Cabinet was given a full brief as to the state of the company, GuySuCo, and so we believe that based on that information, which was provided to us, that cabinet could cogitate on the matter very seriously and we will get an announcement of a board for GuySuCo in a very short space of time,” Harmon said.
“I want to make this point very clear and that is that, as a government, it is our duty, our responsibility to ensure that monies that are spent, the people’s money that is spent on any entity whatsoever, that we have value for that money and that GuySuCo or any other entity which comes to the State for subvention, for money, on a regular basis, will, in fact, have to account to the people of this country through their government so that the question of a board for GuySuCo is not a very simple matter,” he noted.
Harmon stressed that the entire entity has been reconfigured. “So there are a number of things that are happening at the same time that requires careful analysis and careful thought and it is not something as a government we want to rush into, we want to ensure that GuySuCo has the best possible board for the time that we have right now. It’s not just a routine matter,” he said.
He said that some elements of the company are being divested, while others “continue to be there and they are producing and they are functioning…So it is not a normal situation. So, you require people who are competent in sugar, who understand the industry, who understand business, who understand the direction which we are going as a country to be able to serve on that board”, he said.
He denied that differing views shared by the AFC and APNU are what is stalling the process. “That is not true,” he said.
Harmon made it clear that National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the SPU are arms of the government. “51% belongs to the State. These are companies…that are basically holding the assets of the state and I want to make that every clear…The question of the appointment of a board of directors for GuySuCo is with cabinet,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder has said that the life of the board ends on April 31st and that the process to identify candidates to form the board has started.
“The old board comes to an end at the end of this month… and, yes, I have begun the process of looking,” Holder had told Stabroek News on April 18th following a Cabinet meeting.
Heath-London on April 13th at a Ministry of Finance event had said that he was “informed” that he was the Chairman of GuySuCo. He did not say who had advised him.
NICIL and the SPU are in charge of four estates that GuySuCo decided to shut: Wales, Rose Hall, Skeldon and Enmore/East Demerara Estate. GuySuCo retains control over the functioning Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt estates.
Analysts say the confusion over the GuySuCo board has underlined divisions in the administration and the gross breach of established Cabinet procedures. Documents which had been filed at the registry on the purported Heath-London board will also have to be nullified.
A statement from the SPU in February had informed that the Thomas board had been dissolved by a decision by government holding company NICIL, which had set up the SPU. In addition, NICIL had instructed GuySuCo to freeze all hiring and not to renew any employee contracts.
“The life of the board of GuySuCo came to an end on February 14, after the Board of Directors of NICIL, in a Special Board Meeting, made the decision to install a new board focused on the transformation of the corporation, as envisioned by NICIL-SPU,” the statement said
“The NICIL board also instructed GuySuCo to freeze all hiring and to not renew any employee contracts that are expiring at this time. NICIL has begun working with the management team at the corporation to implement management changes, some of these changes are already being implemented and more are expected to follow in the coming weeks,” it added.
The advertisement without the blessings of Cabinet was published on March 14th. In it, NICIL identified Health-London as the Chairman and listed eight other members of what it said would be an 11-member board. The advertisement carried brief bios and photos of the new board members, who were listed as Fitz McLean, Komal Singh, Arianne McLean, George Jervis, Verna Adrian, Vishnu Panday, Roshan Khan Jr and Annette Arjoon. The two other members, the advertisement explained, would be GuySuCo executives, who would be named when their appointments are confirmed.