The Agriculture Minister, has announced that Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) will be turned around by the end of 2015. For the sake of GuySuCo and the sugar workers and for the sake of Guyana, I hope he’s right.
However, it is now an established norm that this Government says one thing but does another. Even as the Agriculture Minister spoke of the 2015 turnaround, GuySuCo and the APNU/AFC were lowering the target from 240,000 to 227,000 tonnes of sugar.
The truth is there’s a turnaround plan but it will take more time to achieve. We made progress last year and GuySuCo surpassed the target we had set for the industry. We set a more ambiguous target for 2015 and the first crop, and came close to achieving the target of 84,000 tonnes by producing 81,000 tonnes. It means that the second crop must achieve a production of about 159,000 tonnes to reach 240,000 tons or 146,000 tons for the reduced target of 227,000 tons.
It’s a doable target, but the Minister and the “new” team at GuySuCo has already been convinced that they cannot achieve the 240,000 tonnes initial target, thus reducing it. So much for the turnaround by the end of 2015.
Yet, there’s enough sugar cane in the fields to meet the target which is part of the turnaround plan. Now we need to squeeze 70 tonnes per acre and not the average of 50 tonnes.
Meeting the target of 240,000 tonnes doesn’t means a turnaround but is a sign that GuySuCo is on its way to recovery which canot be accomplished by the end of 2015.
The turnaround would occur if the APNU/AFC gives support to the management staff and workers, and commits to making the kind of investment that Donald Ramotar and the PPP spoke about during the elections campaign. GuySuCo needs about $20 billion now.
The 2015 budget made no provisions for such a total commitment. Instead, the 2015 budget is about starving GuySuCo although a turnaround cannot come without financial support. The sugar industry requires financial commitment from the Government now; giving a little at a time will not solve the problem, but make the problem more acute.
GuySuCo is being given subsidies in a way that hinders it from achieving a turnaround. For example, has GuySuCo procure enough fertilizers for the year or obtained fertilizers on a timely basis? Does GuySuCo have the finances to ensure acceleration of its program of mechanization without which it cannot effect a turnaround?
None of these issues were addressed by APNU/AFC during the recent budget discussion. The Agriculture Minister spoke as though sugar isn’t his responsibility. GuySuCo is too important and too big to fail and I believe that the Agriculture, Finance and Prime Ministers treat GuySuCo with much indifference. The budget debate is the most important forum to establish what the Government intended for GuySuCo. Yet, the nation is still left perplexed that it was ignored during most of the budget debate.
The turnaround will not come by appointing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) as a witch hunting exercise. It will come through commitment to the turnaround plan that GuySuCo management has been working with.
The Minister failed to say how much the members of the CoI are being paid. From all evidence gathered, by the end of September, it will exceed $75 million. At no time during the budget presentation or debate did the Government present the costs which will be incurred by the CoI.
Neither the Finance, Prime nor Agriculture Ministers spoke about Skeldon in the budget debate. Yet, without Skeldon, GuySuCo’s turnaround is impossible. The PPP/C Government was right in its decision to construct a factory in Skeldon. Circumstances changed and some of the assumptions proved wrong.
Yet Skeldon still possess great potential. This is why commitment through investment in Skeldon is required but at no point did APNU/AFC give the assurance of making the financial commitment necessary.
The turnaround will not come by placing friends and political allies on the Board which seems intent to pursue a different agenda. Instead of focusing on the turnaround plan, the new Chairman is approaching the issue from a different perspective – privatization of GuySuCo. Such a move is not in Guyana’s interest and will prove detrimental to the workers of GuySuCo.
Hopefully GuySuCo will come close to achieving its initial target of 240,000 tonnes to further consolidate its recovery which started in 2014.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy