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Aug 06, 2022 Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News – The biggest historical bugbear which the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has faced is political meddling in its management. This was responsible for problems in the industry after nationalisation and has continued onto this day.
One top government official – a political person – publicly indicated that he was going to address the management issue of the corporation in January. It is not clear whether he did.
But regardless of whether he did so or not, it is not the role of any politician to fix the management of the sugar corporation. Having appointed a Board, it is the responsibility, and the responsibility of the Board alone, to fix the management of the corporation.
Sugar has enough problems of its own to be further saddled with a management crisis. Unfortunately, for months now there have been all manner of accusations about the corporation’s management.
Compounding this problem is the recurring practice of political meddling in the affairs of the corporation. It was reported, for example, that following a dispute at the level of the Board, a complaint about the proposal to acquire tractors for the corporation reached the President who suggested a course of action.
The President has no basis to get involved in this sort of decision-making. That should have been the exclusive responsibility of the Board. The Board therefore has to take a grip of the situation and not allow politicians to meddle in disputes at the Board level.
Audio recordings of exchanges, purportedly between a management official and Board members, have been aired on Tik Tok. It is not hard to determine the identities of persons that are involved in the heated exchanges heard on those recordings. But what is disturbing is the utter disrespect which was shown to members of the Board, judging from the tone of one of the persons in the exchange. Regardless of your standing in the corporation, you cannot speak in such a manner to members of the Board. That is untenable.
The Board should not tolerate being brought into disrepute. It should also not entertain political meddling into its affairs.
GuySuCo went into remission years before the withdrawal of preferences in the European Market. Political meddling and political appointments were responsible for much of the pre-liberalisation era damage to the sugar industry.
Persons cannot be handpicked for jobs in the sugar industry. That is a recipe for failure and problems. But that has been a recurrent practice in the industry. Instead of handpicking persons for jobs, there should be a system of competitive hiring so that the best and capable are recruited. No one knows whether the present CEO was handpicked by the political directorate for the job or whether he was employed following a process of competitive hiring.
Politics must be kept out of sugar management and production. During the 1977 sugar strike, the PNC recruited some 6,000 scabs to help cut and grind the cane. Most of them knew little about the sugar industry and did damage to it. Yet after the strikes had ended, many of the scabs were retained in the industry.
The political imposition of the obnoxious sugar levy deprived the industry of resources needed for recapitalisation. One prominent economist had long noted that political interference was a severe toxic element in the industry and to the sugar company.
The PNC brought in foreigners to run the sugar industry. This was not a political imposition on the sugar corporation. The management fees were enormous and drained the corporation or precious resources.
The decision of the APNU+AFC to right-size GuySuCo and to send home almost 7,000 sugar workers was not a decision of the Board. It was a political decision taken with what is believed to be political objectives.
The PPP/C has been no different. Eleven years ago, Yesu Persaud, a man with strong roots in the sugar industry, said that political interference continues to plague the sugar industry. He was speaking about the PPP/C’s practice of political meddling in the corporation. He called for a non-political solution to the problems of the sugar industry.
The APNU+AFC launched a commission of inquiry (COI) into the sugar industry in 2015. That COI found that political interference had a negative impact on the sugar corporation.
One of the general recommendations of the COI concerned insulating the management and Board from political interference. The COI recommended that the management of the corporation should manage the enterprise within the policies and guidelines set by the Board.
It is time for the present Board to get a grip of the present situation and make it known to all and sundry that it is the Board and not the politicians that runs the industry. And that respect must be shown to Board members.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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