Apr 15, 2018 News
If Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, had his way, the $32B in bailouts sank in the Sugar Industry since 2015 would have been spent differently.
The official was being pressed on Friday about the monies plunged into the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
There have been burning questions how the corporation utilised those monies. From all indications, the monies were spent on salaries and paying suppliers and others.
There is very little public information on how much, if any, was spent on critical retooling, agriculture and making the industry more efficient.
There have been feelings in some quarters that the monies should have been spent on fixing the factories and on harvesting equipment and improving agriculture in the fields.
During a press conference, Friday, at his Main Street office, the Finance Minister disclosed that the details of how those billions were spent are still being tallied.
However, Jordan made it clear that he would have used the $32B in an “alternative” manner.
Most of it have instead gone to paying wages and salaries.
Jordan believed that the monies should have been spent re-engineering the sector, which would have left the country better off.
The statements would confirm an unhappiness in factions of the Coalition Government which believed that the cash-strapped GuySuCo in the last three years was badly handled.
Government has publicly stated that Cabinet had not been able to discuss GuySuCo’s intentions to close three estates so rapidly last year.
With little resources to plug into other projects, the sinking of billions of dollars into an industry that had been going nowhere with little fixes seen, had been a hard pill to swallow. There were increasing calls for urgent reforms to GuySuCo.
However, the Finance Minister, was also quick to point out on Friday that with more than 15,000 workers, it would have been hard to object to the monies being disbursed although GuySuCo had little to show for it.
The alternative of not giving the bailouts would have been sending home the workers.
It was a “too big to fail scenario” that had to continue, he said.
The fact is that the GuySuCo wages and salaries bill was more than its earnings at one time. That left little room to pay suppliers and other contractors.
He said that Government simply does not have the monies stashed off somewhere to just pay the corporation.
In fact, the $5B severance was a struggle with several programmes for this year cut or reduced from the various ministries. Only half of the severance was paid to redundant GuySuCo workers earlier this.
The other half will be paid in the latter half of this year.
Arguing that there are very little monies to spend, the Finance Minister pointed out that there has never been a case in this country where there has been a budget surplus.
Annually, administrations would have had to borrow to erase the budget deficit.
This year’s borrowing would have amounted to $46B and did not cater for the $5B severance for the 4,000-plus sugar workers made redundant from three estates– Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore.
GuySuCo has been a hot political issue in recent years with consecutive governments finding little answers to improve fortunes.
The Opposition- the People’s Progressive Party- which has built its support on sugar workers- has been vehemently objecting to the sending home of workers despite little solutions offered.
Facing first a steep 35 percent-plus price cut in its major European market, sugar also had to contend with growing competition from beet sugar from Europe.
In Guyana, sugar was being produced at massive losses; at three times, the price that it was being sold for.
Workers were staying away and coupled with strikes, poor weather and other agricultural factors, the factories were also falling apart.
In late 2016, the century-old Wales estate closed its gates. With Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore, it is up for divestment and privatization.
Government through its Special Purpose Unit has hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct valuations of the “closed” estates and with that consultant to oversee the process of privatization and divestment.
The SPU has since reopened Enmore and has been producing molasses for the Demerara Distillers Limited.
It has also processed thousands of tonnes of sugarcane at Rose Hall and is about to reopen Skeldon.
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