Quite recently some of my stalwart colleagues were expressing optimism, even excitement, at the promise offered by a reportedly successful financial bond transaction being negotiated for the revitalisation of the Guyana Sugar Corporation. (The productivity indices for sugar, and possibly diversified corps to which the negotiations may have been related are yet undisclosed).
But during the discussion it dawned on the listener that none of the group had ever set foot on a sugar estate; that they had no actual experience of its agricultural and/or factory operations.
The occasion provided pause for reflection as to how many pontifical analysts and industry commentators may have been speaking from the same (confident) platform.
Interestingly, this group had hardly ever engaged in such sugary ruminations during the more than two decades of the previous administration, during which the industry’s decline started, however surreptitiously, albeit bolstered by ‘subsidies’.
Particular recollection is that little more than a decade ago, there was minimal reaction to, and loud silence about, the Chinese elephant that was created at Skeldon Estate – to the extent that the then Head of State was embarrassed enough to publicly declare that he was prepared to go and manage it himself in order to make it productive.
But since then, ask Skeldon Energy Inc. (SEI). The expert engineering management team only recently declared, in the face of all the eloquent fulminations, that the Skeldon factory remained a major technological complex of challenging proportions, albeit to be rectified at substantial cost.
But at earlier times the capital, maintenance and repair expenditure initially invested, had diverted attention from the financial support so badly needed by the other factories all with equipment too many generations old.
So if perchance the recently announced bonding arrangements will provide for badly needed replacements (technical and agricultural) it would certainly be a good thing. But still not enough.
For what the pundits appear to have overlooked over the years is the consistent depletion of the technical knowledge stock in almost all operational areas of the industry. Indeed over the last two decades, during the predecessor regime GuySuCo’s annual reports (embarrassingly) revealed the migration of an average of thirty senior staff per year. The pattern of the ‘pull factor’ of overseas relations continues. Meanwhile a public corporation, currently described in various depletive terms, would hardly attract anxious career seekers.
But at the most fundamental level are reports from Estate Managers of the poor daily attendance of cane harvesters – below 50%. Meanwhile the Agriculture Director complains of the under-utilisation of the mechanised harvesters. So that at this juncture when projected is an image of divisiveness, malignment, personal mistrust, character assassination – to the extent of implied corrupted organisational systems and practices, the question to ponder is how would the most imaginative bond issue address the substantive human capital deficits.
For when all the projected capital investments have been effected (consider the time lines involved), there is the question of their operational productivity – in the absence of the
relevant technical expertise in field and factory.
Critically at this time an informative appraisal system is not being operationalised, despite the launch of a very comprehensive workshop in 2016, where all relevant managers were trained in the conduct of the exercise.
As a consequence the formerly agreed Succession Plan has been overtaken by emergency appointments in a rush of spontaneous decision-making.
What all this says is that there will now be serious challenges in identifying adequate skills resources, beginning right now.
It means also that, with good reason to project further migration, the need to upgrade the corporate training and development programmes must be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency.
But then there is the fundamental issue of the current capability of the Human Resources Department. Ironically opinion in GuySuCo is that at this specific point of need the function is inadequately resourced to match the now and future challenges of so many performance deficits.
The opinion is also that there is need to raise the level of an ‘accidental’ to one of more creative leadership for which the corporation should advertise as widely as possible. For to match the justification for the international bond arrangement, there must be substantive assurance that the industry’s skills and competencies can fulfil the optimism for the future.
In the final analysis, it is only by having the right people on the bus, can it be driven in the right direction – one which in any case should emanate from a Board constituted of persons of relevant sapiential authority.
The stark choice to be made is between a ‘GuySPUCo’ of today and GuySuCo for the future.