President David Granger on Friday assured sugar workers that his Government will not close the sugar industry but is rather looking for solutions to address the issues faced by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
The Head of State met with workers during his first visit to Albion/Port Mourant Estate since the coalition Government began downscaling the industry in 2016. This estate is one of three sugar estates which remains operational.
“Our sugar industry is going to recover from the difficulties it is facing. This sugar industry is not on the point of death…I am not here to bury the sugar industry,” he told the workers at the Estate’s Training Centre in Albion.
“I am here to find out what your problems are. I have come to fix things,” the President said, according to the Ministry of the Presidency.
He explained that the Government is restructuring the industry to respond to changes in the local economy and prices on the international market for sugar.
Mr. Granger noted that the production cost has been difficult to bear, referring to the Corporation’s production coast of US$ 0.86 per kg in 2014 while the world market price was US$ 0.31 per kg; for every kg it was losing US$0.55.
He believes that with effective agricultural management and through capital investments, the cost can be lowered to about US$0.40 per kg.
The coalition Government has faced the brunt of criticisms for closing the Rose Hall, Enmore, Skeldon and Wales sugar estates which left approximately 5,000 workers without a job.
The Head of State argued that despite criticisms, his Government since being elected to office in 2015, has been doing everything humanly possible to ensure the industry thrives.
President Granger said the Government regrets the outcome of the restructuring process but this is not the first time in Guyana’s history that hard choices have had to be made to ensure the sustainability of the industry.
The President pointed out that there were 380 plantations in the 19th century which declined to 239 a decade later.
“By the time the Guyana Sugar Corporation was established in 1976. From 380, we came down to 11. I didn’t do that. It is the nature of the industry…Let us not forget that the East Demerara plantations – Diamond, Enmore and La Bonne Intention – were consolidated in 1998 and the administrative office for the merged estates was centralized at La Bonne Intention. The Enmore administrative office and field workshop were closed in the same year, 1998. I didn’t do that,” he asserted.
He said 5000 workers were taken off the payroll, either by natural attrition or severance, between 1992 and 2015.
The President said his Government is working to make the industry more viable and profitable.
Dubbed the Corporate Restructuring Plan (CRP), the President said the Corporation’s plans for the short-term involve the rehabilitation of field infrastructure; the modernisation of production including cost-effective mechanization; the retooling of factories including energy efficient equipment and technologies; and increasing milling and other processing capacities and improving the marketing of sugar.
“Part of that Plan is to produce 147,000 metric tonnes (MT) in the shortest possible time,” he noted.
“The Plan is rational, logical and doable,” the President said.
“We are in the business of sugar and we will produce sugar. We will not produce retrenched workers and obsolete factories,” he vowed.
The Government has in the past outlined a number of plans for the diversification of the closed estates but those are still to come onstream as it looks for investors.
GuySuCo vs SPU
The Head of State alluded to the perceived rift between the Guyana Sugar Corporation and the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) set up to diversify the assets of the closed estates.
“I am here to let you know that Government is going to put the relationship between NICIL and the Corporation on a firm footing,” he said.
The SPU is a subset of the Government’s privitisation unit –National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
The SPU secured a $30B syndicated bond to also assist GuySuCo to manage the three remaining estates and has disclosed recently that $7.4B of that sum was handed over to the corporation.
Colvin Heath-London said the corporation has failed to account for the monies but GuySuCo said this is untrue as each of its request for funding were accompanied by documents on the last spending.
The rift between the two entities has been ongoing for approximately two years with the SPU accusing the corporation of undermining its efforts.
President Granger also told the workers and their managers that he is prepared at any time to engage with their unions as he has done in the past to ensure that they understand where the sugar industry is headed.
“I met with the sugar unions on December 31, 2016 and February 3, 2017 and, again, with the unions on January 19, 2018 because I am interested in working out with them how this industry will survive. I do not spurn them or refuse them. They are part of the future of the workers and I want them to understand our plans for the industry,” the Head of State expressed.
Estate Manager, Mr. Threbhowan Shivprasad, in his remarks, said that the Albion/Port Mourant Estate, with support from Central Government can see significant improvements and a turnaround by 2023. He also noted that there are numerous vacancies on the Estate, which the company is hoping to fill at the shortest possible time with persons from the Corentyne.
Mr. Shivprasad, like the other staff, expressed gratitude to the Head of State for visiting and listening to staff. He said the visit to the Estate represented the first time a Head of State has done so in that location.
The President also visited the Albion Primary School where he interacted with the pupils and teachers.
He was accompanied by Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder and Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuC0), Dr. Harold Davis Jr.