Guyanese do not need to be told the sugar industry, the largest employer and once the largest generator of revenue in Guyana, is in crisis.
Buffeted by a 36% slash in its long-term preferential prices from its largest customer the EU, a malfunctioning new Skeldon Factory that was supposed to be its saviour, poor attendance by its field workers, hemorrhaging of its experienced managerial and supervisory staff and heavily subsidized competitors, it will take some inspired efforts to move it forward.
The APNU/AFC administration, since assuming office last March, instituted a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the industry to suggest such a course of action and it submitted its Report in December 2015. However, the government suddenly made one significant intervention almost as soon as the report was submitted – and a number of others have evidently been recently leaked – which are at variance from the COI’s recommendations. In a nutshell, the latter was for the government to stabilize GUYSUCO according to a specified plan which would be implemented through continued injection of capital for three years and then the entire corporation would be privatized in one fell swoop rather than making piecemeal interventions.
However, while the COI claimed to have arrived at its recommendations by “consensus”, it did note there were two commissioners that had different views. While these two did not append specific “minority” reports (which they could have), there were separate reports filed on the several areas of operations of GUYSUCO. The one on “Finance/Economic” was compiled and submitted by Dr Clive Thomas, who just happened to also be the Chairman of GUYSUCO. From his report, it is clear that he was one of the dissenting Commissioners and from the initiative announced, the closure of Wales, and the leaked announced that three other estates may be on the bloc, it is also clear that Chairman Thomas’ recommendations are carrying the day.
What the government needs to do is to announce clearly what it intends to do with the sugar industry and whether, in fact, it is implementing the Thomas Plan. Sugar still employs some 17,000 workers and their livelihood and that of entire communities, are at stake. Since the tragedy in Guysuco did not just arrive full blown overnight, there have been any number of initiatives to effectuate a turnaround in the last two decades, beginning with a Strategic Plan in 1998. At this juncture there is no percentage in blaming previous administrations or managers save to identify why previous plans failed so that certain initiatives can be avoided.
But any plan is only as good as its premises. For instance, the 1998 Strategic Plan, the previous administration implemented, was unfortunately based on the claimed “inviolability of preferential prices” with the EU, which was by far Guyana’s largest market. What are the premises of the Thomas’ Plan? From what is unfolding at Wales, the premises appear to be very unrealistic. If Uitvlugt is already one of the higher cost producers, how will this be lowered by bringing cane from Wales that will take days to arrive and lose sucrose content because of the circuitous transportation logistics? How will the billion dollars that will be spent to construct the road to transport the cane from Wales to Uitvlugt, be defrayed?
If, in fact, the “leaked” information from a Cabinet briefing by the Board of GUYSUCO is true and the Skeldon factory is to be sold, the Rose Hall Canje factory is to be shuttered and Enmore closed, the impact will be even more devastating than the tragedy that is unfolding on the West Bank of Demerara. Sugar was the raison d’etre for the existence of this country and all are involved. All might also be consumed by its precipitate and ad hoc interventions based solely on Chairman Clive Thomas’ whims and fancies.