After several months without a Board of Directors, the APNU+AFC Cabinet on Tuesday approved a new board for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) with agriculture expert John Dow tipped to be chairman, sources say.
Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder would only confirm that a Board has been identified but said he is not the one to announce those selected. “Cabinet yesterday approved the new Board but as to the Chairman and members, Minister of State Joseph Harmon will make the announcement and I will not go into that,” Holder told Stabroek News when contacted.
The life of the previous board came to an end on the last day of April. Government was to initiate the process to identify candidates to form a new one. There was confusion in March 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 Board. The directors were identified as Komal Singh, Verna Adrian, Fritz McLean, Rosh Khan, George Jervis, Arianne McLean, Vishnu Panday, and Annette Arjoon.
However, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan later clarified that Professor Clive Thomas remained the board 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and a new board had been sent out without approval of the full Cabinet and the appointments were subsequently rescinded.
Holder said yesterday that GuySuCo has been operating without a Board for a long time and he believes with one now being appointed, the recapitalization works would hasten and the positive turnaround for the sector that government has planned would be evident.
As such, one of the first duties of “whomever the new Chairman is” will be to meet with Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Horace James, to discuss the two entities’ collaborative efforts.
The Minister of Agriculture said that he understands that there has been a tussle between NICIL’s SPU and GuySuCo over a number of matters but the two sides have to first try to trash out any differences before his, and subsequent Cabinet intervention. “The heads of the two have to first meet and try to talk and resolve whatever differences. Only if they can’t come to an agreement then will I intervene and inform Cabinet,” he said
Holder is optimistic that the issues would be worked out soon and recapitalization implementation strategies would begin. “Yes I do believe that they would resolve the matter. They have to,” he declared.
Following an article in the Guyana Chronicle yesterday that the SPU has been doing maintenance and rehabilitative work at the estates, with one of the most recent projects being the rehabilitation of the Estate Lounge at GuySuCo’s LBI office, the corporation put out a statement saying that no one is authorised to undertake any works without their approval.
The LBI Estate is one of four estates that has been put under the SPU for divestment and it is unclear why GuySuCo still claims the property. Photos of the lounge before rehabilitative works started showed a termite-infested, shoddy space.
“The Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) wishes to inform members of the public that the La Bonne Intention (LBI) Estate is its official Head Office and the Corporate Head Office for several Agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture,” the statement had said.
“Members of the public are hereby informed that all enquiries as regards occupation, rental or modification of any structure within the compound should be addressed to the Chief Executive or to the Minister of Agriculture from whom permission must be obtained,” it added.
Staff at GuySuCo have also lamented the SPU’s sloth in disbursing the remaining $15B of $17B that the Unit collected from a $30B bond secured from GuySuCo’s assets. The SPU has said that it released $2B for operational expenses for the three retained GuySuCo estates: Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt in keeping with the plans of the APNU+AFC Government to make the industry viable and to safeguard the future of the 11,000-plus workers.
Under the arrangements, NICIL/SPU has explained that GuySuCo must submit applications that are vetted to make sure it meets the approved criteria of the bondholders. Two disbursements have been made so far: one for $880M and another for just over $1.1B.
It stated that monies from the bond facility will be used to purchase equipment for plantation white sugar and co-generation plants and operational expenses, including the purchase of nine tractors. It emphasised that the monies obtained from the bond facility were not acquired to facilitate the payment of debt.
But staff at the corporation told this newspaper that the sloth of the release was “frustrating” and it seems that it was deliberate.
“I do not know why the money has not been released but that money came from assets that are ours. The situation is very frustrating because we already have a plan, a plan that the SPU knows of and it seems like a deliberate attempt to frustrate the management of this corporation,” one source said.
`Us and them’
“I think maybe it is hold off as long as possible to show that we are incompetent or something so that they [the SPU] would be put in charge of everything. This seems like it comes down to an ‘us and them’ when we are supposed to be working together to get this sector back where it can be,” the source added.
Holder yesterday reiterated that the funds will be used to undertake a three-phased approach in the revamping of the sector. “The funds are needed and will be used in a three-phased project where the first is recapitalization, then we move to white sugar [production] and last is co-generation. A state paper went to the parliament where it explained in detail where we were going and what would happen,” he said.
And like Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Harold Davis Jr, Holder echoed most of what his ministry has said about plans for the sector and added that he anxiously awaits the execution.
“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 a statement following Davis’ 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.
A large portion of the funding garnered will be used for human resource development. Another priority for Davis will be to upgrade the skills of staff of the industry as GuySuCo prepares them for working in a modernised system.
The Minister of Agriculture said that the assets of the corporation are in the “hundreds of billions of dollars” and he remains optimistic that with the new Board in place, “much will begin happening.”