Hold off until talks – GAWU warns
Hiring of foreign managers for Skeldon factory…
The country’s main sugar union is calling for government to hold off on placing the US$200M Skeldon factory under foreign management until a full stakeholders’ consultation is held.
In a strongly worded statement, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said that several critical questions should now be asked as to why the Skeldon factory, considered Guyana’s largest single capital project to date, has been singled out from the rest of sugar-making facilities, for foreign management.
GAWU’s stance on the foreign management issue would come a few weeks after Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, announced that the board of the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) was considering Indian and Chinese proposals for the running of the factory.
The official had admitted that GuySuCo does not have the management expertise to run the Skeldon Sugar factory but was careful to note that the government has no intention of privatising sugar, as this was important both to the economic and social fabric of the country, with thousands of families depending on sugar for their livelihood.
Already, opposition parties, the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Parnership For National Unity (APNU), have blasted the announcement.
According to GAWU, it has learnt that considerations could well be leaning towards the Chinese contractor, China National Technical Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC) and India-based Surendra Engineering which constructed the Enmore Sugar Packaging Plant.
“If so, other troubling questions would arise. As we await these answers, GAWU is very much disappointed by the alleged remarks of the Minister implying that Guyanese are incapable of running the industry. It should be noted that local personnel are managing all the estates of the industry and the industry itself. Why is Skeldon factory now being isolated for possible outside management?” the union asked in the release.
GAWU pointed out that while GuySuCo’s management may have its weaknesses, the union is not convinced that the Skeldon’s factory failures are solely the consequence of poor management.
“Other critical factors are at the root of its misfortune. They are the factors that should be purposefully addressed. We hope that the Minister has been wrongly quoted, for it is impossible for any legitimate examination to lead to such a conclusion. GAWU hopes that facts are not manipulated nor are presented to justify the return of the industry into foreign hands.”
GAWU urged for an “honest, objective and collective approach” by all the stakeholders to be a first step to address the Skeldon factory “failure”.
“Incidentally GAWU wishes to observe that the workers and the union have not been made a scapegoat of the problematic factory, at least at this time. The Minister needs experience, advice and guidance.”
The factory has been dogged by a number of problems and GAWU has been agitating for the problems to be fixed so the factory could realize its potential. The corporation had set the end of next year to get the factory going at full speed.
Government has said that GuySuCo needs to produce 300,000 tonnes of sugar annually to be profitable and Skeldon is being looked at as the answer to under-production that has been squeezing the industry of its juice.
The under-production has been coupled with several industrial relations disputes that have been a major headache for the Corporation’s management.
Last month, GAWU’s President Komal Chand emphasised the union’s concern about the Skeldon Project, saying that factory and field production need to be ramped up. He said that field production should enable the estate to meet two-thirds of needed canes, with the remainder being provided by farmers.
The opening of the factory came just over a month before Guyana, and the rest of the nations of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of countries, began losing preferential market access for sugar to Europe. The industry is also reeling from the reduced price Europe began taking for its sugar in 2006. At the start of 2010, the price cut went to the full 36 percent Europe imposed.
The sugar industry directly sustains some 18,000 jobs, and when that is multiplied to include their families, it means sugar supports one-fifth of the country’s entire population. Sugar exports account for as much as 20 percent of the country’s annual revenue.
The Corporation was targeting the end of this year to complete all land development and planting, and expects to have in this period the 1.2 million tonnes of cane required by the new factory. Estate cultivation of sugar cane will have to grow to 9,600 hectares.
The factory was constructed with a combination of self-generated funds and loans from the Caribbean Development Bank, the People’s Republic of China and the Government of Guyana. The Project Engineer was Booker Tate, UK Ltd and the Contractor was CNTIC Ltd.