Almost two years since the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), through the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), took a $30 billion loan, ostensibly for investing into GuySuCo, no one knows what the loan was taken for and what it has been used for so far. The average Guyanese citizen does not know. Sugar workers do not know. Now we are told that even NICIL itself does not know. Guyanese have been asking for almost two years what happened to the $30 billion, and no one has been able or willing to give an account.
Neither NICIL nor the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) was willing to be accountable, and their posture was it was nobody’s business. The Agriculture Minister, in fact, admitted he did not know anything and pronounced rather proudly he did not care and did not want to know. The Finance Minister insisted that the Agriculture Minister was in charge of GuySuCo and, therefore, the loan. The President and the Prime Minister showed no interest.
But two weeks ago, in a rare sharing of information, the Finance Minister indicated that another interest payment, the sum of $132 million, was made, presenting the information as though that was all the interest the Government has paid for the loan so far. Shockingly, two days ago, NICIL stated that, in fact, thus far, almost $800 million has been paid out in interest on the loan.
Adding to the shock, NICIL revealed that over $7 billion of the $30 billion loan has been disbursed by NICIL to GuySuCo, but the Head of NICIL bemoaned the fact that he did not know what GuySuCo has done with the money. Further, the NICIL Head said that the loan was in jeopardy and that Guyana’s creditworthiness was threatened, because GuySuCo has failed to indicate what it has done with the money.
The possibility now exists that the lenders – the bondholders, including GBTI and NIS, might recall the loan. NICIL, it turns out, disbursed more than $7 billion on “good faith”, like playing a game while burdening the Guyanese people.
In all of this, Minister Holder has shown absolutely no interest in the $30 billion loan and no curiosity in how it was being used. As Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, he has a legal responsibility and a political duty to demand accountability. He has never done so. He has abdicated his political duty, and is guilty of political malfeasance.
More seriously, there are questions surrounding his legal responsibility of accounting for $30 billion. How could he not know what happened to $30 billion? How is it that NICIL disbursed more than $7 billion of that $30 billion to GuySuCo and the Minister did not know what it was disbursed for? Did this Minister ever ask for an accounting? If he did ask, were GuySuCo and NICIL guilty of disregarding the Minister’s legal request? What would Cabinet do if GuySuCo and NICIL refused to provide answers to the Minister?
In the meanwhile, GuySuCo continues to flounder. With a low target of just over 100,000 tons for 2019, it is unlikely that GuySuCo will meet its target and, in fact, sugar production for 2019 might well be the lowest for many decades. Little or no investments have been made in improving the factories that still operate. Field operations have suffered because roads and canals have not been adequately maintained, field operations have been negatively impacted, because field equipment have been poorly maintained and are insufficient. Diversification plans have stalled.
Even as operations continue to flounder, workers continue to be demoralised. These workers have not been provided with any wage increases since 2014. There were zero per cent increases in wages for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Some of the sugar workers who lost their jobs are still waiting for their severance payments. The promised investment in other economic ventures to provide jobs for the unemployed sugar workers has not yet materialised. In fact, after spending more than $100 million for rice production at Wales, virtually no paddy was produced and after spending some $50 million on aquaculture, not a single fish has been reared.
While $30 billion is being squandered, while there are scandalous non-transparency and accountability, the closed sugar estates have been scavenged. The promised privatisation has become a well-guarded State secret. No one knows what is happening with the planned privatisation. This past week, the privatisation specialist at the SPU was fired.
There are rumours of secret deals. This past week, one of the rumours that emerged is that a consortium of Indian, Ghanaian and Guyanese investors are about to take over the closed Rose Hall Estate. Clearly, if there is a time for the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to act, this whole GuySuCo fiasco screams for them to step forward.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
June 3, 2019