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When the government changed in August 2020, I was among thousands of delighted Guyanese to see the long night of the APNU+AFC rule had come to an end.
I was particularly pleased because the PPP/Civic had promised to reopen the closed sugar estates. This was most welcomed since, like many people, I am convinced that the sugar industry is viable and can still play an important role in the expansion of our economy. Moreover, it is important to ensure that the economy is put on a wide variety of products and not caught to be dependent on oil. Therefore sugar can play an important role in enhancing our people’s welfare.
The closure of the estates by APNU+AFC was based purely on its own vindictiveness and nothing more. This can be seen by the fact that at the same time when the APNU came to power the industry was demonstrating great resilience and positive outcome as far as production was concerned. So much so that the APNU+AFC regime rushed to take credit for its good performance in 2015. The APNU closed the estates when it was on the rise. Therefore, the reopening of the estates was the right thing to do.
However, the industry needs much more than money to make it viable, to allow it to contribute to our country’s all-round development. Things cannot be done in the same old way. The industry needs to be restructured, reorganized as much as it needs financial inputs at this stage. Not to reorganize this could end up just throwing money at the problem without tangible results.
The first step was for senior persons in the government to bring together all the experience that we have in this country. These would be experienced field and factory persons, experienced workers, people with enormous practical experience and appeal to their patriotism to put the industry on its foot again.
It should have been made clear that the super salaries they were accustomed to what was not possible at this time. Appeal to management to take a pay cut since the PNC had damaged it seriously. They would be rewarded as successes are made and the industry ragains its viability.
This would have ensured that Guysuco and the country would have benefited from people who were committed to the industry and the country. That kind of motivation and commitment would have been an important indication of success.
It is clear too that a new type of management is needed in sugar. Everyone knows about the history of the industry which almost spans our country’s history, from slavery through indentureship and later the monopoly of foreign control. Even after nationalization the management structure was not changed. We had a public corporation with a management structure of the plantation era. The same top down command type of operating.
Therefore, we need to democratize management. Ensure that machinery be created to give workers an opportunity to say how things were being run and how they could be improved. This is a great resource since workers who gave all their lives to the industry have acquired vast knowledge that should be harnessed in an organized way to benefit the industry. This invaluable resource/knowledge has been mostly ignored in the past and is being ignored now.
One of the ways in which this could be done was by giving workers a greater stake in the industry. To create worker cooperatives in which workers would not only look forward to wages but to dividends at the end of the crop.
This means assisting workers with technical skills to run a worker cooperative. To give the lands to these workers in groups to produce canes for the publicly owned factories. This would be real help in improving workers conditions and helps to make them more than just depending on wages but being also shareholders.
This is one way of allowing workers to be owners as well.
Management would then free itself to think of developing new products, increasing revenues streams and building new relationship such as joint ventures for a new distilling and refining facilities, co-generation and the making of ethanol among other measures.
The cane industry of India and Cuba has vast experience in new products and we can benefit from their technologies since this country has many cooperation agreements with both those states. I’m sure both will be most willing to work along with us.
At the same time a strong focus could be put on cutting costs in a major way. Guysuco was doing this work only a short time ago under Dr. Rajendra Singh’s leadership. All of this work appears to have been lost. Possibilities of saving millions in fertilizers by producing liquid fertilizer as is done in India. This was already in train five years ago. Much money could also be saved by compressing garbage and burn them in the broiler to start up factories. This too amounts to substantial savings from not buying wood to do the same job. Guysuco and IAST had done a lot in this area. The compressed baggase was far more efficient and a fraction of the cost of wood.
At the level of procurement, the workers and their unions can play an important oversight role to ensure that the corporation and the country is making the best and most sensible use of scarce financial resources.
Recently there was news emanating from the corporation in relation to the purchase of some forty tractors. The tractors identified were very expensive. However, Guysuco has records and experience with very good machinery at far less cost from other sources. The Mahendra tractor from India is a very good piece of machinery at a fraction of the cost of what was being proposed. Therefore more equipment could have been purchased with the same money. However some people seemed determined to want the most expensive. Therefore, the workers and union should have an important oversight role here to ensure value for money and the most optional way to use scarce financial resources.
It is unfortunate that the team put up by the administration is not generating nor demonstrating any confidence that it is up to the challenge. It is not motivating workers nor managers at the middle level.
All the signs are that they are old style managers who are more focused on prestige such as fancy expensive vehicles, huge salaries and expensive personal accommodation. Its employment practices do not seem to be searching for the most skilled and experienced managers, but on cronies who can sing the praise of the boss. Egoism is now more dominant than finding the best.
It is time that the government pay close attention to what is taking place at GuySuCo. If this is not done then the point would be reached where the government would look for the easy way out and accept privatization of the industry. They would say we tried, we have put in a lot of money but it has not work therefore we have no other option but to sell out the industry.
That would be a huge collective slap in our faces and a great let down to our ancestors who invested their life’s blood in sugar.
A great opportunity is being missed!