As the administration continues to grapple with the ongoing restructuring of the sugar industry, there are fresh worries now over the workers’ pensions.
According to the 2015 financial statements of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Employees Retirement Benefits were in the negative of $1.1B.
In 2014, that figure was $2.4B.
With Government looking to cut the budget of a number of ministries to meet almost $4B in severance pay between now and mid-year, news that it may now have to find more monies for workers’ pension monies would be a further blow.
The cash-strapped state corporation, which ran seven estates in 2016 but with four of them now slated for divestment and privatization, has been deducting the monies from employees’ earnings. It was supposed to remit the deductions to the pension schemes that are in place.
The same thing was supposed to be done for deductions of taxes for the Guyana Revenue Authority and contributions to the National Insurance Scheme.
According to reports, GuySuCo is behind payments on its taxes and NIS, too.
Workers have been complaining bitterly of missing years of contributions because NIS simply does not have any records of their contributions.
It appears, now, that despite hundreds of millions of dollars being deducted for pension, NIS and taxes, GuySuCo did not remit the monies.
Industry officials would not immediately confirm the amounts yesterday.
However, Government officials said that not remitting the pension deduction is tantamount to a serious breach of GuySuCo’s fiduciary responsibilities.
In fact, Kaieteur News was told Friday, the matter was raised with Government last month.
The administration is reportedly at odds with the management of the corporation over the handling of the workers and the manner in which they were sent home.
Minister of State, Joe Harmon, last month confirmed that Cabinet was not informed officially that an implementation had started.
He said then that such an important decision of 4,000 workers being sent home should have been brought to Cabinet’s attention by GuySuCo. The affected estates were Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore.
For the workers, it was a bleak Christmas with no bonus and no severance although the writing had long been on the wall.
The previous administrations of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic had balked at taking any decision to close estates despite the strain on the economy by the loss-making GuySuCo.
With its support base coming from sugar, the decisions were delayed.
Last month, Chief Executive Officer, Errol Hanoman, resigned as it became clear that the going was getting tougher for stakeholders in the industry.
It is unclear what will be happening to the Board of GuySuCo now, headed by Professor Clive Thomas, but from all indications, the administration is not happy with them.
Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, has hinted at a different management set-up than the one currently in place. Government has not ruled out management from overseas.
However, Government officials last week, hinted that a local solution is being looked at and preferred.
Already, in recent week, the three estates along with its properties along with Wales, West Bank Demerara, were transferred to the state-controlled National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited.
A Special Purpose Unit, headed by financial expert, Colvin Heath-London, has been granted powers to manage the affairs of the four estates until investors can be found.
The Demerara Distillers and a team from the Private Sector Commission have submitted proposals for the Enmore estates.
SPU has received around 70 proposals by investors for the four estates.
However, the administration has been targeting local businesses and possible groupings to take control.
In Berbice, the deeply troubled Skeldon estate which has been bleeding GuySuCo dry has seen interest from big names like rice magnate, Nand Persaud and Company.
The Coalition Government, riding on a promise to shake things up for the sugar industry, entered Government in 2015 and immediately ordered an inquiry.
A White Paper presented by Government, with input from GuySuCo, concurred that estates had to be closed if the industry is to become profitable.
Government has set a lowly 115,000 tonnes cane this year for the three remaining estates that GuySuCo has under its wings- Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt.
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