– Finance Minister insists he’s not in charge of sugar industry
Following the embarrassing confusion late last year over the redundancy of thousands of sugar workers, the handling of the industry is continuing to create more worry for the administration.
It appears that the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) had two Boards of Directors existing.
This is based on statements from government officials and from evidence seen yesterday by this newspaper.
However, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, is insisting that there is only one Board of Directors currently in place, and its life is expiring this month-end. That board is the old one under Professor Clive Thomas.
The situation has left government officials somewhat embarrassed and signals a deep divide in the Coalition Government over GuySuCo.
Last month the Ministry of Finance, through its Finance Secretary, Hector Butts, issued letters of appointment to several persons confirming their positions on a new board. The letters confirmed Colvin Heath-London as the new chairman.
The Finance Ministry is now left with the awkward task of revoking the letters of appointment.
The embarrassing situation started at the end of last year when as part of the restructuring, the four closed sugar estates- Skeldon, Rose Hall, Enmore and Wales- were all transferred to the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
The idea was to place the assets of the estates in the control of NICIL’s Special Purpose Unit (SPU) with the intention to divest and privatise them.
The SPU is headed by Heath-London, a financial expert who was brought in and appointed last year.
At the end of last year too, the shares of GuySuCo, which is owned by the Government of Guyana, were placed under NICIL.
It was reported that the life of GuySuCo’s board, under Professor Thomas, had ended and moves were made to appoint a new board.
The government had made it clear it was unhappy with the previous board, which did not inform them of the decision to close three estates within days, leaving more than 4,000 workers without jobs and facing a bleak Christmas.
In February, a Cabinet Decision named Heath-London as the new chairman of a youthful GuySuCo with the other board members being Komal Singh; Verna Adrian; Fritz McLean; Rosh Khan (jr); George Jervis; Arianne McLean; Vishnu Panday; Annette Arjoon-Martins and two executives from GuySuCo.
Based on the Cabinet Decision, the Ministry of Finance sent out letters of appointment.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, had disclosed a few weeks ago that the naming of a new board was on hold pending some clarity and questions asked by Cabinet.
From indications, there were strong objections by ministers within the Alliance For Change (AFC) faction who expressed fears over possible fallout.
Minister Jordan, in explaining how the situation of the “new board” under Heath-London, happened, said a sub-committee of Cabinet in February dealt with the appointment of the new board.
Sitting on that sub-committee were Ministers Carl Greenidge, Winston Jordan, Joseph Harmon and Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder.
According to the Finance Minister yesterday, it was “decided unanimously” by all the ministers, including Holder, that the life of the board came to an end and a new board would be installed, headed by Heath-London.
However, the appointments met with objections when it came to the full Cabinet.
While that was happening, GuySuCo, last month in newspaper advertisements, announced the names of the new directors.
In fact, Heath-London has already met with managers of GuySuCo and has been working to make some changes. A number of senior staffers were sent home as part of the restructuring.
Yesterday, despite the shares of GuySuCo being under NICIL, Finance Minister Jordan made it clear that he is not responsible for the GuySuCo portfolio.
It was pointed out that the current three estates under GuySuCo – Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt – were stripped of such ancillary services like the health centres and drainage.
It is the intention to use the monies from the sale and divestment of the four closed estates to improve the current GuySuCo.
Jordan said too that the Cabinet is not divided on the issue.
Health-London would have been part of the team spearheading the search for financing to run the three estates. They managed to raise $30B via a number of syndicated loans and bonds at 4.75 percent.
Recently, the official also managed to broker a deal with Demerara Distillers Limited to reopen the Enmore estate and using less than quarter of the staffers, restarted the factory and processed the canes on the ground for molasses production.
Rose Hall is also reopened for harvesting, with canes being processed for sugar and molasses at Albion.
Several hundreds of workers have been rehired for the work. It is the plan to reopen Skeldon shortly too.
The cash-strapped GuySuCo has been facing a decade of heavy losses with more than $32B reportedly plugged in by the Coalition Government over the past three years to keep the sugar industry afloat.
There are questions now as to how that $32B was spent.
GuySuCo is battling high costs, old machinery and factories, low worker turnout and the fact that it was producing more than three times it was selling sugar for.
There are more than 70 proposals on the table that SPU is considering, to run the different estates of GuySuCo.
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