In revamping the Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt sugar estates, government intends to employ some 10,000 persons and will appoint a Board to the Guyana Sugar Corporation that will make sound decisions to maximize the resources available and ensure the profitability of the industry.
“GuySuCo is important to us. We have said that we are not shutting down the sugar industry, it is being reformed”, President David Granger on Friday told a press conference he hosted at the Ministry of Presidency.
“We are bent on maintaining larger estates in East Berbice, in West Berbice and West Demerara…and produce about 147-150,000 tonnes of sugar. We are aiming at producing those volumes and we are aiming at maintaining a working population of about 10, 000,” he added.
The 10,000 figure would be about 7,000 less workers than when the Granger administration took office in 2015. By some estimates, as many as 5,000 sugar workers have already lost their jobs from the shuttering of the Wales, Rose Hall, Skeldon and East Demerara estates.
The President pointed out that GuySuCo has been placed under a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as part of government’s revitalization plans for the beleaguered industry and is in the process of selecting a Board of Directors that can steer the sector in the direction government wants.
But he noted that while in the past Board members would be chosen based on their prominence in society and not experience relevant to the sector, his government would not go that route.
“We are selecting a board of directors the members of which will be more knowledgeable of sugar production. There has been a tendency or temptation in the past to put people who might be socially prominent but this is a business, this is an international industry we have to compete with other sugar industries … and we need to have a serious board and a serious Chief Executive Officer and we are working towards having an industry that can profitably produce about 150,000 tonnes of sugar annually,” he stressed.
GuySuCo’s new CEO, Dr. Harold Davis Jr has said that that a strategic plan from the Ministry of Agriculture will be his mandate for the three estates and had explained that it will be heavily focused towards modernizing the three remaining estates which are the production centres and will entail transforming infrastructure, agricultural and other practices, and retooling factories.
“In an effort to create and deliver more value, co-generation facilities will be constructed, the factory at the Albion Estate will be upgraded to produce plantation white sugar, and consideration will be given to the expansion of production at Blairmont Estate to accommodate increased production of direct consumption sugars, among others. Feasibility studies on co-generation have been completed for two factories and a further study will be conducted on the third estate. The first co-generation project would commence on Albion Estate within the planned period,” the Ministry of Agriculture had said in its statement on his appointment.
“One of the key focus areas for Dr. Davis will be to increase the competitiveness of GuySuCo with the production of high value sugars – plantation white and direct consumption. A precursor to this will be to increase sugarcane yields to beyond 70 tonnes [of] cane per hectare. A land development programme has already re-commenced under Dr. Davis’s watch as Agriculture Director and this is being conducted in a highly technically sound manner. Improving the capacity of the workforce through training and development is a high priority item on his agenda,” it added.
But Davis said for any of the works to begin GuySuCo must be given the resources it needs and this has not been happening.
The Special Purpose Unit (SPU) which was established by government’s holding company, NICIL, to oversee the privatization of the sugar estates has collected $17B from a $30B bond that is supposed to be used to revamp the three estates but so far it says that it has only released $2B for operational expenses. It has not said when the $15B will be released but interest is already being added to the borrowed sums.
Granger believes that GuySuCo can thrive albeit globally there has been a decrease in the consumption of the commodity where “many people are moving away from sugar (and) going into artificial sweeteners”.
The President believes that with the right management and marketing strategy, Guyana would be able to save the over 300-year-old industry.
And as far as the closures are concerned, Granger said that the current plan is that once an estate has been closed the lands will now be subject to the processes set out in a White Paper that was tabled in parliament. Under that paper, proceeds of all state lands sales will go to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
“The idea is that we won’t sell off the family jewels. We will make sure that the lands which are taken off from sugar are placed to the benefit for the people of Guyana, as a whole,” he said.
And while there will be “several anomalies or contradictions” in the disposing of estate lands, government assured that it has a sound plan to cater for those and that in time this will be seen.
“The Ministry of Agriculture may need some land to settle sugar workers, the Ministry of Public infrastructure may need some lands in terms of highways and bridges the Ministry of Communities in terms of housing other ministries may need lands and private citizens may need lands so the state land sales is meant to reconcile the differences of these agencies at the same time they have to make a profit from the disposal of those lands. There is a clear plan for sugar…for a more compact and better managed industry,” Granger said.