NICIL-SPU should take command of four closed estates while an independent GuySuCo board should manage operational estates

Dear Editor,

“A statement from the SPU in February had informed that the Thomas Board had been dissolved by a decision by government holding company NICIL. In addition NICIL had instructed GuySuCo to freeze all hiring and not to renew any employee contracts”.

The above is an extract from SN’s article of Saturday, April 28, 2018 titled `Cabinet deliberating carefully on new GuySuCo Board – Harmon’.

As if posthumously however, one learns the following from the opening paragraph of the article.

“While noting that the government has the authority to intervene in the appointment of the Board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Minister Harmon yesterday said that the matter is presently engaging the attention of the Cabinet, which is seeking to select persons who have knowledge about the industry.”

The contradiction inherent in this construction is the following presumption of authority.

“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.”

Careful reading of the communication process reveals that the Board of NICIL boldly bypassed the Minister of Agriculture who appointed the Board in 2015 with the prior approval of Cabinet; then arrogated to themselves the authority to dissolve the Cabinet’s decision on February 14, 2018 premature to the effective lifespan of the Cabinet – appointed Board to April 30, 2018.

In organisational terms such a construct could possibly be termed a revolt of some kind. In constitutional terms some would argue it to be illegal.

Even if the membership of a new board was agreed in anticipation of the demise of its predecessor, how is it possible for such appointments to have escaped the normal focused attention of Cabinet, unless of course it was not referred thereto? What has emerged between 2015 and 2018 are two separate decision-making processes for appointing the board of GuySuCo.

But then, perhaps too commonsensically, some might wonder what was the original ‘purpose’ of a Special Purpose Unit? Was it or not to specially concentrate on the divestment in whatever form, of four closed estates? Complementarily therefore was it ever the understanding that what remained as ‘GuySuCo’ estates would be managed/directed as a separate corporate grouping?

Perhaps these answers can be ascertained from relevant correspondence; none of which should have bypassed the subject Minister, and indeed the Cabinet.

SN’s article does note that Cabinet documents appointing a new board had been sent out without approval of the full Cabinet, and these appointments were to be recalled.

How does this rationalisation reconcile with the report in the same article which points to the effective decision-making being independently exercised by NICIL?

Is it too simplistic to enquire whether the consultations observed had always involved the intention that the special purpose would transition into the more general purpose of integrating the divestment of the closed estates with the executive management of those operational?

It would appear that the sugar industry has been weaved into a tangled web. It all started with:

i)             Appointment of a Special Purpose Unit (SPU) by the Board of NICIL, approved by the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

Purportedly the role of the SPU was to take care of four closed sugar estates in a form that would make them purchasable to investors.

ii)            Ministry of Finance authorising the Board of NICIL to remove the Board of GuySuCo, in the process bypassing the subject ministry.

iii)           Since NICIL-SPU was to focus on four closed estates, it has been transformed to manage the three remaining operational estates. Is this a legal feasibility?

iv)           One consequence would be that of the SPU reporting to two boards – NICIL and GuySuCo

v)            At the same time, how could the situation be rectified, legally that is, by conveniently suggesting that GuySuCo be run by a ‘department’ of the Ministry of Finance, while that ‘department’ reports to the Ministry of Agriculture?

vi)           Should it not be that since the SPU is governed by its own board, that GuySuCo should retain its corporate identity by reporting to a separately appointed board?

vii)          To go the full egocentric circle NICIL-SPU should take command of the four closed estates; while an independent GuySuCo board should manage the three operational estates.

A fundamental question to be asked concerns the longevity of the SPU after the four closed estates have been divested.

Would it have fulfilled its special purpose?

Intricated in the above recital are probably legal relationship and accountability issues that may need to be clarified – preferably by GuySuCo’s legal advisers.

Yours faithfully,

E.B. John

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