The Skeldon modernisation project, Nigel Hughes and Booker Tate

Dear Editor,
Contrary to AFC leader, Mr. Nigel Hughes’ false claim that a feasibility study was not done for the Skeldon Modernization Project, a feasibility study was in fact done by Booker Tate.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) initially lacked needed experience and the financial capital needed to maintain the sugar estates and factories during economically difficult periods. Consequently, in the late 1980’s, former President Desmond Hoyte asked Booker Tate to take over the management of GuySuCo. This manifested into a contract by an Agreement between the Government of Guyana and Booker Tate Limited dated October 12th, 1990, renewed March 7th, 1994, and March 26th, 1996.
In 2000, GuySuCo hired Booker Tate to assist in developing the sugar industry to boost sugar production, lower operating costs, and improve profitability. This was a separate contractual agreement. Booker Tate conducted a viability and expansion study which recommended developing sugar production in the east of the country where agricultural conditions were more favorable. This resulted in GuySuCo deciding to construct a new sugar cane factory at the Skeldon Sugar Estate.
Booker Tate was not only tasked with conducting the feasibility study but based on the findings and recommendations derived from feasibility study, they were also tasked with executing the entire project. This included overseeing the public tendering process, project design, scope of works, selection of the contractor, and project supervision to ensure quality assurance. One of Booker Tate’s roles was to provide a comprehensive and detailed factory specification which would include the latest designs and technologies. The overall factory design was undertaken by a Chinese design institute and approved by Booker Tate.
Booker Tate’s role included the monitoring of construction process and ensuring design specifications, and quality control with respect to standards of workmanship, were maintained.
The relationship between GuySuCo and Booker Tate deteriorated due to sub-standard performance by Booker Tate in their oversight role of the Skeldon Project. To this end, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Nanda Gopaul, GuySuCo withheld payment of Booker Tate’s management fees, which eventually led to Booker Tate taking court action against GuySuCo for same to be settled. The decision to withhold payment was based on the Board’s discovery of numerous acts of inefficiencies, mismanagement, poor decision making, and major planning deficits and flaws in the construction of the factory.
Based on sound legal advice, GuySuCo filed a counterclaim against Booker Tate for alleged contractual breaches in relation to the Skeldon Project. Booker Tate was in breach of its obligations under clause 4 and 2 of Schedule A of the Agreement. The Affidavit filed in the High Court by GuySuCo detailed the alleged breaches, which can be summarized as follows:
• Yield loss due to wrong choice of filed layout
• Loss of sugar
• Untimely installation of drainage structure
• Bungled reconfiguration of ridge and furrow to broad beds
• Poor placement of bridges.
• Poor construction of all-weather road.
• Water supply structure
• Multiple design flaws of the factory
• Modification of plant equipment for design capacity
The court proceedings began in October 2010. The Court’s ruling by a High Court Judge followed in February 2015. The Judge chose to rule only on Booker Tate’s case against GuySuCo. The Court, however, did not rule on the counter claim by GuySuCo. GuySuCo had sued for compensation for damages in the amount of $4.529 billion, owing to the breach of Booker Tate’s contractual arrangement in respect of their role in the Skeldon Project noted above. Considering the time value factor, when adjusted for inflation for the period 2005-2023, that sum has a present (2024) value of $7.924 billion.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, GuySuCo then filed an appeal with Guyana’s Appeal Court for that Court to consider its counter claim. In May 2015, the APNU+AFC formed a new government, and subsequently withdrew GuySuCo’ s case against Booker Tate and shockingly paid them as per the initial court judgement. No responsible government would have done that. By so doing, the APNU+AFC Government jeopardized the cash starved entity from recovering vast sums of monies lost due to their improper execution as per their contractual terms.

Based on the APNU/AFC withdrawal of the court action by GuySuCo, Booker Tate was relieved of any liability to the State in relation to the failure of the Skeldon Project. Effectively, APNU-AFC bailed out Book Tate much at the expense of the sugar industry. The final proof came when they laid off 7,000 sugar workers.
Interestingly, Booker Tate’s lawyer was none other than the esteemed Nigel Hughes. At the time when the APNU+AFC Government decided to withdraw the appeal filed against Booker Tate by the PPP/C Government, Mr. Nigel Hughes was the Chairman of the AFC, while he was the attorney representing Booker Tate.
The question is, why the APNU/AFC Government did not pursue the appeal against Booker Tate? It is reasonable to presume that Nigel Hughes who was the Chairman of the AFC at the time, that was part of the Government, would have influenced the withdrawal of that appeal.
Summarily, Booker Tate was solely responsible for the failure of the Skeldon Sugar Estate due to its failure to satisfactorily fulfil their contractual obligations. It is worth emphasizing that Booker Tate was brought back to assist with technical support and corporate management of GuySuCo by the PNC Government in 1990, which the PPP/C government continued up until their termination following the disputes surrounding their handling of the Skeldon Project. The PPP/C government then sued Booker Tate to the tune of $4.529 billion for Skeldon. However, the PNC government that brought back Booker Tate in the 1990 was back in office in 2015 under APNU/AFC, and then effectively pardoned Booker Tate, relieving them of any liability by withdrawing the case from the Court of Appeal, which was filed by the PPP/C government.
In the final analysis, herein presented is a classic piece of historic evidence involving Mr. Nigel Hughes demonstrating that when his party was in Government that he was also Chairman of, he would have acted in a manner that was unfavorable against the State, and financially favorable to himself and his client. This is indicative of what is unfolding once again in another form as regards his client-relationship with ExxonMobil Guyana, and him being the leader of a political party.

Yours sincerely,
Joel Bhagwandin