Reforming sugar industry will take years ꟷ Granger admits

After firing over 7000 sugar workers, Government is attempting to restructure Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to produce 147,000 tonnes of sugar, even though the latest statistics from the remaining estates show they are some distance from achieving that goal.
This projected figure was quoted by President David Granger during his appearance on the radio programme “The Hot Seat” with Stan Gouveia. He willingly admitted, however, that this cannot be achieved this year or next year, but, rather, will take time.
“The idea is not to shut down the industry. The idea is to reform the industry, bring the production to 147,000 tonnes and maintain as large a labour force as is necessary. And keep the sugar industry alive”.
“And we’re very confident that we’ll be able to return it, if not to profitability then to sustainability, at least in the middle term. It’s not something that is going to happen this year or next year but in the middle term, next three to five years, I’m very confident”.
With General and Regional Elections just around the corner, the President also expressed regret at the number of persons who lost their jobs as a result of the closure of estates. He said that besides the 147,000 tonnes of sugar, the Government is also targeting a 5000 member GuySuCo workforce.
“It’s very unfortunate that some people had to be terminated… I’m very confident that with the funding they’re getting, this is an achievable target. 147,000 tonnes, as well as a 5000-member labour force”.
Last year, GuySuCo produced little over 100,000 tonnes of sugar from the three estates left standing— Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. In terms of this year, it was reported in October that GuySuCo was lagging in its second crop production target of 33,800 tonnes.
Back in 2017, Government had announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.
Subsequently, in November of that year, GuySuCo announced plans to retrench 2500 workers by the end of that year. Amid much criticism, over 7000 were retrenched. Many of these former workers had to take the Government to court to fight for the severance payments they were legally entitled to.
The Government then established the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) under the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) to take over the divestment of GuySuCo’s assets that were earmarked for sale. The SPU then recruited accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a valuation of the assets to be privatised and divested.
In June, PWC Managing Director Wilfred Bhagaloo had announced at a press conference that negotiations with a consortium of investors from Guyana, India and Ghana have reached an advanced stage. He had also revealed that Rose Hall estate, which received the most interest from investors, was the targeted estate.
That process has effectively been put on hold, owing to the 2018 No-Confidence Motion and the ensuing political upheaval. Government fell to the No-Confidence Motion and approached the courts soon after to overturn the vote. When the matter reached the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which is based in Trinidad, the regional court validated the no-confidence vote after months of legal wrangling.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has always maintained that the Government should be acting in a caretaker capacity only and not be entering into large-scale contracts. In the wake of reports that State assets were being sold to cronies of the party, he has repeatedly warned that, should the PPP take office, any underhand transactions will be investigated. Elections are scheduled for March 2, 2020.