Another day, another assault on the sugar industry. The latest assault comes from the Chairman of GUYSUCO, Dr Clive Thomas, who claims that Skeldon (SWR) is falling apart and is a derelict, while at the same time suggesting that SWR could be privatized. The same Thomas had effusively praised SWR after an outstanding 2015 performance. What did they do to SWR for such a rapid deterioration in less than a year? In addition to Thomas, the President himself, his Ministers of Finance and Agriculture and others have been aggressively pushing a doomsday scenario for sugar. This Thomas salvo against SWR is no accident; it is another element in a deliberate strategy to END SUGAR, starting with privatization of some assets. The SWR assault by Thomas adds to the stage setting to END SUGAR. Meanwhile Nagamootoo and Ramjattan are silent in their stinking betrayal of the sugar workers.
SWR had its best year in 2015 since the new factory was commissioned and it had started to deliver on its potential. APNU+AFC actively took credit for the excellent 2015 SWR production performance. Nagamootoo, Thomas and others euphorically frothed from their mouths in claiming credit for SWR last year (2015) when production reached 39,198 tons. But the improved production started in 2013 when production was 25,380 tons and continued in 2014 when production was 35,890 tons. The punt dumper output, projected at 280 tons/hr by design had reached an average of 260 tons and surpassed 280 tons often during 2015. Overall factory efficiency increased throughout 2014 and 2015 reaching an all-time high of almost 76% in 2015. Co-generation led to an increased generation of power to the national grid.
The improving production at SWR resulted from a determined effort by the PPP and GUYSUCO to correct design flaws at SWR which Booker Tate was responsible for. For example, in 2012/13, the bagasse carrier at SWR was automated to provide a steady and regulated amount of bagasse energy to the boilers, avoiding the use of expensive Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and allowing the boilers to function continuously. The cane carrier belt was replaced and equipped with new knives and shredder, leading to reduced losses of cane during transit from the punt dumper to the factory. The boilers were retubed with 1,200 new tubes, all electronic sensors and diffusers were repaired and a high capacity condensate tank was installed. In 2014, an improved punt, tractor and mechanical harvestor capacities and improved all-weather roads led to faster flow of cane from the fields to the factory, resulting in improved sugar yield and more efficient factory operation.
The PPP Government had endured some tough years with SWR. While many (including APNU+AFC) held the Chinese responsible, the Chinese had constructed a factory to design. The PPP had argued that the design was flawed and, in fact, sued Booker Tate which was responsible for the design of the SWR under its management contract. That legal action has not been pursued by APNU+AFC which appointed Errol Hanoman as the CEO of GUYSUCO who previously represented Booker Tate as its representative on the GUYSUCO Board, an obvious conflict of interest.
Having taken credit for SWR’s outstanding 2015 performance, disregarding the remedial actions taken by the PPP government through 2014 and the first crop of 2015, Thomas is now trying to find an excuse for the anticipated dismal 2016 performance in the industry as a whole, its worse since 1990. SWR has become the convenient excuse for poor management of the industry and to set the platform for ending sugar in Guyana. There is no uncertainty APNU+AFC is carrying out its 2014 threat to close sugar. After more than 18 months in government, the promised 20% annual pay increase has morphed into zero pay increase, the earned incentive payments (API) have been disavowed for the first time since 1976. Wales and LBI estates are due to be completely closed by the end of 2016. More closures and even privatization are being promised. A high level cabinet sub-committee has been established to consider proposals to deal with sugar. The President himself and his minister of finance have both stated that the APNU+AFC government is unwilling to continue “subsidies” to sugar.
Thomas’ cry that SWR is falling apart is merely preparing the ground to end sugar in Guyana or to hand over SWR to one of APNU+AFC’s donor in a sweetheart deal, like the public health medical warehouse. The sugar workers have been betrayed. Guyana will suffer. The problem is not SWR, it is that APNU+AFC wants to END SUGAR sooner than later.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy