APNU+AFC admits $400M never handed over to GuySuCo; claims company never requested money

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While it has been revealed that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) never received $400 million allocated in the 2016 budget for it, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) has admitted that indeed, the money was never given to the entity but claimed that it was never requested.

The matter was addressed by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, when former Agriculture Ministry Permanent Secretary George Jervis was called before the committee. According to Jervis, the monies were approved for GuySuCo.

But he said that the monies, which were intended for purchasing machinery and equipment that would be used for harvesting and land preparations at the Albion, Rose Hall and Uitvlugt Estates, were never released by the Government to GuySuCo.

During a press conference on Tuesday, former Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan admitted that the monies which were sourced from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) were not released. But Ramjattan, now the shadow Agriculture Minister in the Opposition benches, attributed this to GuySuCo and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).

“Prior to the coalition Government’s taking office in 2015, the IDB and the PPP was working out a loan for the agricultural sector. A portion of that loan sum, which was agreed to by the IDB, was for the trial of mechanisation of harvesting in the sugar sector. In the preparation of the 2016 budget, GuySuCo had requested that a $400 million capital allocation be made available for the mechanisation of the Uitvlugt and Enmore Estates,” Ramjattan said.

“These monies were then obtained by the then Government from IDB for allocation towards this capital purpose. Consequent upon discussions, this sum was never requested from the Government although the allocation was there. Firstly, the argument was that since these are the wettest estates in the country, mechanisation must be put on hold until further data is accumulated on the wetness of the land and specifications of the machinery to be acquired.”

Additionally, he said that GAWU had wanted to know how many workers would be displaced by mechanisation. According to Ramjattan, GuySuCo did not request the monies, nor did they answer the questions posed by the Union. He said this caused the monies to revert to the IDB as unspent.

It would not be the first time that monies that were for a specific purpose for GuySuCo were, in fact, not used for that purpose. In 2018 the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), through Republic Bank, arranged a $30 billion syndicated bond at a rate of 4.75 per cent interest and a five-year repayment period to recapitalise GuySuCo.

However, a significant part of the bond was never used for the purposes it was secured. The previous APNU/AFC Government itself had admitted that between July 2018 to February 2020, $9.7 billion was disbursed from the bond to GuySuCo to fund its operational expenditure – much of which was outside the terms of the bond.

Back in 2016, the former APNU/AFC closed the Wales Estate, and the following year, shut down the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates, putting over 7000 sugar workers on the breadline.

Many of those workers have not been able to secure permanent jobs and remain on the breadline years later. The downsizing of the sugar industry resulted in only the Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion Estates in operation.

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), during the 2020 election campaign trail, had promised to reopen those estates and rehire those sacked workers. Since the PPP/C Administration assumed office in August 2020, they have been putting systems in place to reopen the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates.

Some $5 billion was allocated in the 2020 emergency budget, which would be injected into the sugar industry for the phased reopening of the closed estates. GuySuCo was allocated a further $2 billion in Budget 2021 by the PPP/C Government for capital works to be undertaken at the various estates to help in the turnaround of the sugar industry.

Due to the deteriorating state of the Wales factory, that estate will be converted into the Wales Development Authority – an industrial facility that will see the development of not only agriculture but agro-industries, processing facilities, manufacturing and other sectors to drive economic activities.

Additionally, Government, through the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has already moved to rehire over 700 sugar workers.