Technical team to help revamp the sugar industry – President

The government is assembling a technical team to help restructure the country’s sugar industry amid reports of strained relations at GuySuCo and challenges in other areas.

Since taking office in 2020, the government has channeled billions of dollars to rebuild the country’s sugar industry. However, last month, a leaked audio of a board meeting gave the public a glimpse into the hostilities that existed between chief executive Sasenarine Singh and the board, including former member Anthony Vieira.

In an exclusive interview with Stabroek News this morning at State House, Chairman Irfaan Ali said the lack of teamwork at GuySuCo was concerning. Ali said he has since met with the company’s management and board and made it clear that the government will not tolerate any inefficiency.

“We brought them together. We had a serious discussion… I made it very clear that we are not going to tolerate any inefficiency,” the president said.

“We are now looking to build a technical team that would help us support management in rebuilding the industry restructuring itself,” Ali added.

The chairman previously said the company’s goal should be to make it financially feasible again.

In August, Vieira and Singh were embroiled in a heated argument over the management of the company and the decision to purchase articulated tractors as part of the industry’s mechanization efforts.

The dispute stems from the fact that GuySuCo used the recommendations of an independent team to source articulated tractors.

Vieira, who resigned as vice chairman of the board in June, criticized Singh’s performance in a letter published in this newspaper on August 3 and denounced the purchase of the tractors. Vieira also accused Singh of lying to the board and the president.

Singh, in response to the charges, challenged Vieira and critics to produce evidence of corruption within the entity’s executive leadership.

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) agrees that reviving the sugar industry requires a team effort and stressed that they want to see the sugar industry succeed and play an even more meaningful role in the country. “Such efforts of course require a comprehensive approach,” the union said.

Ali recently noted that when the PPP/C government was sworn in, the company was left in a state of disrepair. There was no equipment and the rods were too old for substantial yield while the fields were left in a neglected state.

Drainage and irrigation systems were destroyed and, according to Ali, this was the condition from which the industry is being reborn.

“We had to rebuild from scratch. The whole industry has been left in bad shape, but people sometimes forget that the decision was to let this grind to the ground. You have factories where there were huge holes in the roof. No interviews were done on anything. So we had to go from there,” Ali said.

The government promised in its 2020 manifesto to reopen three areas that had been closed under the UNPA + AFC government. Rose Hall is the closest to being reopened. Industry sources say there is virtually no hope of the Skeldon and East Demerara estates reopening.

Additionally, GuySuCo was unable to meet its first agricultural production target this year. From a production target of 20,261 metric tons, the company only managed to produce 13,076 metric tons of sugar. Most of the production came from the Berbice milling estates, as the Uitvlugt estate in West Demerara experienced mechanical problems. From a target of 4,295 metric tons, only 66 metric tons were produced at Uitvlugt.

GuySuCo last month invited people to invest in about 25% of the company’s land to plant sugar cane and supply it to their estates in Albion, Blairmont, Rose Hall and Uitvlugt, according to a protest request from ‘interest.

The invitation for private farmers represents another initiative to rescue the industry from the dire circumstances it has faced over the past 15 years. Many of them, including attempts at privatization, ended in failure, leaving the industry in need of more and more state subsidies.

Rachel J. Bradford