The problems with the sugar industry have to be laid squarely at the feet of the Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, and his party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
So says Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Jaipaul Sharma.
The Minister was being questioned last week about the Marriott project.
The Government of Guyana has taken over the payments to Republic Bank.
However, without being saddled with that loan, the Kingston hotel is making enough to sustain itself for the time, thanks to a major oil find of 2015 and subsequent emergence of the oil and gas sector which has seen droves of investors flocking Guyana.
Appearing on Kaieteur Radio’s 99.1 FM, the official made it clear that based on a forensic audit and review of the hotel in 2015 by Dr. Anand Goolsarran, it can be seen how selfishly Jagdeo operated with the people’s money.
In November 2011, the sod was turned for the construction of the US$51M hotel.
Around the same time, a deal was struck with a shadowy Hong Kong company to sell the 20 percent shares that the Government of Guyana held in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT).
That sale netted on paper US$30M with US$25M paid. The balance of US$5M was never received.
The money was placed under the control of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
NICIL is the state-owned company that handles investments for the government.
That US$25M was used by NICIL to channel through the Atlantic Hotel Inc. (AHI), the state company that owns the shares of the Marriott Hotel in Kingston.
According to Minister Sharma, it was the same time that the Guyana Sugar Corporation was going through a tough time and needed injections of cash urgently for a number of capital projects.
“So when you have a former president and now the Opposition Leader talk about how much he loves the country, he should also explain what he did to the sugar industry and the Skeldon sugar project and how he used money from the GTT shares to funnel it to the Marriott. He will never tell you that.”
According to Sharma, the performance of the Marriott now could not have been known in 2011 as oil and gas was nowhere in the mix.
“The projections of the Marriott were based on the entertainment section working including a casino. That never happened. The Marriott, like the Amaila, and the Skeldon, were all badly planned projects, which raises serious questions. Jagdeo cannot boast of these projects when you have these evidence of poor decision-making. He had a golden opportunity to make the sugar industry in 2011 and 2012 better. He did not.”
According to Sharma, the records and documents that exist all point to a particular manner of spending.
“You got to understand that the shares in GTT were one of the most lucrative investments of the Government at the time. When you decide to give up the investment, lose about $500M annually, and put it in hotel project that has no guarantees at that time when it comes to revenues, then you are playing with trouble.”
GuySuCo is currently facing major cash problems. Around 2011, it had started to lose its preferential price in the European market.
With factories aging and problems with agriculture, there was an urgent need for retooling.
The PPP had staved off closing a few poorly performing sugar estates despite recommendations from a number of reports.
That reason was simple…a significant number of its supporters came from sugar producing areas, which would be hard hit.
After coming to office in 2015, the Coalition Government closed four estates, sending home almost 7,000 of the 16,000-plus workers.
While initially, there was high interest in the estates and lands, it has dwindled as world prices for sugar fell and with little incentives to continue in a sugar production direction for investors.
With elections on the horizon, the issue of sugar is expected to become a major talking point.
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