Skeldon Estate takeover
Government is facing severe criticism over its secretive deal with a Trinidadian company for a possible takeover of the lucrative Skeldon Estate, which belongs to the State and is currently under the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo strongly criticised the Government for entering into this deal without any consultations with stakeholders beforehand.
“They claim that this is without prejudice to privatisation. But if you have a secret Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with someone to assess the entity, then you are already giving one person an advantage over any person who may be interested if you decide to privatise. So they are busy working these quiet deals and one day we may wake up and find that one of the prized estates in Guyana is gone to a group that knows nothing about sugar or is on middle land without any public valuation of the land, no public tendering but has acquired a deal by the Government,” he told media operatives on Wednesday. The Skeldon Sugar Factory, which is located on the Estate, alone is worth US$200 million, so the total value of the Estate would amount to billions.
Jagdeo contended that this was one of the many actions of the Government which he considered “totally reprehensible”.
“You do not speak with the parliamentary Opposition. You know, just recently, they called us in December, after everything else and told us they want to talk to us about it, but the secret MoU was already signed, now the story is in the news,” he outlined.
The Guyana Times newspaper broke the story on Tuesday that Trinidadian company D Rampersad and Company Limited (DRCL) was likely to rake in major benefits from the Guyana Government, including favourable tax incentives for the development of an integrated sugarcane processing facility at the Skeldon Sugar Estate, after the MoU was inked in December for the undertaking of a feasibility study.
The MoU was signed without full disclosure to the Guyanese public and without any public notice or public tender. The company has no experience with any agricultural enterprise, and provides engineering services to the automotive and oil industries in T&T.
Notably, however, as witness to the signing was Noel Rupie Shewjattan, the owner of Auto Fashion Store on Garnett Street, Campbellville, Georgetown. Auto Fashion Store also has no experience in the agricultural sector.
Contacted on the matter, however, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder contends that there is no secret arrangement.
“There was a meeting when we met with the Opposition and the unions …to try to get them on board for the way forward for GuySuCo. At that meeting, the question of the MoU came up and it was provided to the Opposition to look at. The Opposition is well aware of it because it was given to them by the Government. So I don’t know what is the secret deal, they have the MoU,” Holder explained.
The Minister conceded that the company was currently assessing the Skeldon Estate lands to determine if it would be favourable for it to make a proposal to Government for the diversification of the estate, including the production of ethanol.
“There is no commitment on either side, (they will) come down here to take a look and if (they) want to make a suggestion to us, then fine, we’ll take a look at it…They are just coming to look, the best I can call it is a familiarisation, They will look to see what Skeldon has to see if it make sense for them to even do a feasibility study,” Holder explained.