As uncertainty mounts over the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) with accusations of “secrecy” made against Government following an MoU struck with a Trinidadian company, the APNU/AFC Administration is now facing more backlash after it was revealed that a close relative of Prime Minister and First Vice President Moses Nagamootoo is reportedly working to bring in investors for the cash-strapped sugar industry.
Last Thursday, the Agriculture Ministry in a statement disclosed that representatives of Srinath Ispat Limited, an India-based company with extensive knowledge of the sugar industry, are expected in Guyana this week to have dialogue with Government on potential investments in GuySuCo.
The statement went on to say that the delegation would be led by President of Integrated Casetech Consultants PV T LTD, Rajesh Kumar Agarwal, and Managing Director of Sunrise Holdings, Tony Joseph. They would visit the country’s major sugar estates before meeting with several key Government officials, including the Prime Minister, who is currently acting President.
Joseph is married to Prime Minister Nagamootoo’s daughter Angela, something which Government failed to disclose in the media release last week. Nevertheless, when asked on Thursday what role his son-in-law has in GuySuCo, Nagamootoo said, “None, as far as I’m aware…I’m not aware that he has any (role in GuySuCo), why don’t you ask him?”
When further pressed, the Prime Minister then disclosed that Joseph was merely assisting in finding potential investors for the struggling GuySuCo.
“As far as I’m aware, he is a credible and successful businessman, who is not an investor. He is, I understand, here as a finder to introduce investors to help Guyana at no cost to the Government and people of Guyana,” he posited.
Joseph currently heads a freight forwarding company, Joseph Pack-n-Ship in Muscatine, Iowa. Back in October 2015, Prime Minister Nagamootoo had participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Joseph Pack-N-Ship.
According to reports, Joseph had stated that he migrated from Guyana in the 1970s to the British Virgin Islands with his father to take up a teaching job there. He subsequently learnt the freight forwarding business in Canada and worked at a freight forwarding company in Chicago before returning to Muscatine where he set up his own shipping company.
Meanwhile, Government continues to entertain such interest from investors as it faces major decisions on the future of the local sugar industry. To this end, it has held discussions with the Opposition PPP/C on the way forward and in last week’s release to the media, the Agriculture Ministry said that consultations began on December 31, 2016 between Government, GuySuCo, the Opposition and unions.
During that meeting, the Ministry noted, stakeholders were presented with the proposed options for GuySuCo and undertook to study the documents and the implications after which a submission of possible additional ideas would be made to expand the range of options, “so that an agreed position could be decided on in a timely manner on the future of GuySuCo”.
However, Government has stated that it was becoming impatient waiting on proposals from the Opposition and the two unions representing sugar workers on how to turn the industry around.
“Government is, at this stage, concerned that no response has been provided by the Opposition or the unions which could be tabled for consideration,” the Agriculture Minister pointed out.
Nevertheless, it was recognised that “it is important that the process of consultations be condensed, particularly since there are significant financial, economic and social implications attached to an extended delayed process for consultations”.
It noted that GuySuCo has requested $18 billion from the Government for 2017, but that the National Assembly had only approved $9 billion, $3 billion of which has already been disbursed and utilised by the Corporation. The remaining $6 billion is due for disbursement in March 2017.
In this regard, Government has presented a number of alternatives to keep the Corporation afloat, including diversification of its activities, which have been shared with stakeholders.
To this end, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with Trinidadian company D Rampersad and Company Limited (DRCL) for the undertaking of a feasibility study. The agreement will see the company 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.
But Government spokesperson, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman last week said that there was nothing signed to give away the assets of GuySuCo. In fact, he posited that there was no secret deal since the relevant stakeholders were informed about the MoU.
However, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, in his criticism of the agreement, pointed out that Government entered into this deal without any consultations with stakeholders beforehand.
“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 MoU was signed on December 8, 2016.
Jagdeo went on to outline that this agreement gave the Trinidadian company an advantage over any other entity or person who was interested if it decided to privatise the estate or the industry.
“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 last week.
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. (Guyana Times)