The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has lodged a complaint with Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder alleging that the unit set up by the government to oversee privatization of estates is demoralizing and destabilizing the Corporation.
According to a letter seen by Stabroek News, Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo Paul Bhim wrote Holder on May 18 setting out a litany of complaints about the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) which is functioning under government holding company, NICIL.
It was the latest salvo in a battle over the role of the SPU which has seen a sharp division in the government over a new board for GuySuCo. A board that was gazetted to be headed by SPU Head Colvin Heath-London had to be scrapped and the process reverted to Holder’s jurisdiction.
The SPU has been entrusted with responsibility for four shuttered estates: Wales, Rose Hall, East Demerara/Wales and Skeldon. However, the purported Heath-London board had also attempted to flex its muscle in relation to the estates which have remained open. This has led to severe friction in the corporation.
According to the letter, Bhim said that on 17 May, 2018, he chaired an urgent meeting based on a request from Senior Managers who wanted to discuss their growing concerns about the relationship with the SPU in its current form and mode of operation.
“The Managers attending the meeting have indicated that based on the significance of the breaches and unprofessionalism experienced since the Special Purpose Unit was established, particularly since the vesting of the assets of the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) in December, 2017, destabilization and demoralization within the Corporation have been accelerated.
“Senior Managers are of the view that the burdens on the Corporation have been more than the benefits from the collaboration with the SPU, thus far, and suggested that an evaluation be carried out to review and revise, where necessary, mechanisms for operating and collaboration in the future.
“Additionally, based on some of the information that appeared in the press, recently, and which were untruthful, the Senior Management felt that an urgent press release should have been distributed, this was done on 17 May, 2018, and further actions, as appropriate, will follow …”
The letter listed 13 areas for attention:
1. Need for clear policy positions on the roles and responsibilities of the SPU and GuySuCo.
2. A clear business model and strategy for GuySuCo and the SPU as a partnership.
3. Breach of confidentiality, for e.g. providing sensitive Corporate information on GuySuCo, its employees and its corporate partners to the media and possibly other unauthorized sources. Addi-tionally, the deliberate twisting or manipulation of information which is simply erroneous; by the SPU, for purposes inimical to GuySuCo, its employees and the reputation of both.
4. Refocusing of SPU on creating greater value from GuySuCo’s assets which have been vested.
5. Competency issues – Current SPU executives seem to lack the requisite expertise to support the sensitive reconstruction process of GuySuCo.
6. SPU executives seemingly have ulterior motives which are not in alignment with ensuring the successful transitioning of GuySuCo and the sugar industry.
7. Increased reliability and dependability from the SPU in acquiring and making finances available to GuySuCo to offset operating expenses; thus far, SPU has not made available any finances to GuySuCo. Further, GuySuCo has been covering unbudgeted operating expenses for the SPU.
8. Eliminate the scope for interference by the SPU in GuySuCo’s operations.
9. Adherence by the SPU to accountability and transparency systems and procedures for GuySuCo.
10. Adherence by the SPU for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of GuySuCo, for e.g. recruitments, employment, dismissals, procurement, etc.
11. Respect for the channels of communications and lines of authority, so as to reduce disruptions in the Corporation and enhance efficiencies.
12. Clear lines of demarcation of roles and responsibilities for the SPU and GuySuCo.
13. Standardization in SPU agricultural and other operational practices with those of GuySuCo’s, so as to ensure a smooth flow and proper utilization of GuySuCo’s equipment for e.g., the quality of sugar canes supplied by the SPU to the GuySuCo factories.
Bhim added: “Minister, based on the seriousness and sensitivities surrounding these concerns, on behalf of the Senior Managers, I am hereby requesting your urgent intervention, so as to improve the current organizational environment, particularly, during this very challenging transition process for GuySuCo and the sugar industry.
“It would be appreciated if an urgent meeting with us could be arranged, to address the aforementioned points in greater detail”.
Amid the feuding in the government over responsibility for GuySuCo, Holder had declared himself no longer responsible for the corporation. However, this position was reversed when it was made clear that the Heath-London-led board had been abrogated.
GuySuCo is in the midst of tapping a $30B syndicated bond which it has secured from a group of local and regional banks for the revitalisation of its remaining sugar estates.
“It is a syndicated bond, thirty billion Guyana [dollars], from not only local but regional banks and we expect to start [collecting on it] in two weeks,” Heath-London, had told Stabroek News at the end of March. “This money is only for GuySuCo’ s (retained) estates, I want to make that very clear,” he added while explaining that the $30B will be collected in “staggered” payments.