According to an advertisement in Friday’s Stabroek News by the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) set up under the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) to oversee the privatization of sugar estates, Lots numbered 1 to 12 and 14 to 31, parts of Plantation Wales along the eastern and western sides of the West Bank Public Road have been put up for sale. Given their location, these would be considered as prime lots under any circumstance.
Considering the stupendous confusion, incompetence and contradiction that has characterised the APNU+AFC government’s stewardship of the sugar industry over the last 30+ months, urgent answers are required on this proposed sale.
Under which framework are these lands being sold? Is it the White Paper for the sugar sector presented by Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder in May last year? The Agriculture Minister has since advised that his ministry no longer has responsibility for GuySuCo as its fate is now under the purview of SPU/NICIL. If his ministry is no longer responsible for GuySuCo is there a new plan for the rationalized industry? Is there annual plan by GuySuCo itself for the industry?
Have the lands in question been valued by PricewaterhouseCoopers? Are there any conditions on the sale of the land in terms of what uses it could be put to? Would the land, for instance, be sold to real estate developers? Shouldn’t the disposing of those lands be evaluated in the context of an overall development plan for the Wales community and the West Bank of Demerara?
What role if any will GuySuCo have with respect to any aspect of the fate of the four estates that have now been transferred to NICIL? Would it be able to have input on questions such as the privatizing of these lots. Whether GuySuCo will have a role is all the more interesting as the government is considering installing the Head of the SPU, Colvin Heath-London on the new board of GuySuCo. This would pose a conflict of interest. The person heading the privatization/divestment of four estates should not be on a board trying to turn around what remains of the industry and aiming to boost its production and expand market openings.
Is the purpose of the sale of these lands to finance the operations of NICIL/SPU? Is it to extinguish a portion of the debt of GuySuCo which one assumes would be one of the first calls on any disposal of the assets of the corporation? Is it to fund the limited restart of estate operations to make them more attractive to investors seeking to purchase investments as going concerns?
Importantly, the government is still to answer the question of what it and GuySuCo will do for the hundreds of Wales Estate workers who were made redundant at the end of 2016. All of the panglossian promises made to workers in relation to diversification of activities on the former Wales estate. One of the possibilities that had been raised by government officials was that plots of Wales land would be made available to workers to offer them a real prospect of an alternative livelihood. Nearly 15 months after the closure of the Wales estate the workers have heard nothing more about land being made available to them. Yet, NICIL/SPU is about to begin carving up prime lots for some undeclared purpose.
None of the land at Wales should be sold until the government or NICIL adumbrate a policy on all of the former GuySuCo lands under their control. None of the land should be sold until it is clarified whether employees made redundant will be provided with plots. None of the lands should be sold until the Toevlugt/Patentia Neighbourhood Democratic Council, the Region Three Council and the government caucus on a larger development plan for Wales and the West Bank Demerara.
The inept handling of GuySuCo and its many problems by this administration requires immediate redress. It must declare which policy is guiding the sugar industry and its assets and ensure compliance and complementarity with plans for the firmer sugar workers and the West Bank Demerara.