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—Enmore workers stumped at sale of packaging plant
—union, businessman raise concerns over transparency
Workers of the Enmore Sugar Estate said they were surprised at the announcement that the packaging plant was sold without their knowledge and knocked the government for what they said was deception.
Workers who spoke to this newspaper said they were promised that the estate would have been revived. “but clearly this was a lie,” Mary Joyce a former staff of the estate told this newspaper. She said that they were assured that the estate would have been reopened. “We didn’t know about this…I don’t think most of us can fit in with the new business they going to set-up,” Joyce told this newspaper.
Another worker attached to the packaging plant said, he knew about the sale from the media. “Nobody didn’t come and tell us anything…not even the union. We now hearing about this,” the worker who asked not be named related. He said several of his colleagues who work at the packaging plant are concerned. “They tell us we will get jobs at the new business, we don’t know anything about that business…how are we going to work there,” the worker added. “We believe after two months, the new people will just get rid of all of us…”
Last week the Irfaan Ali Government announced that it had sold some 55 acres of lands located at Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) to a reportedly 52 percent Guyanese owned joint venture called Guysons K+B Industries Inc. (GKB). A Kaieteur News article stated that the 55-acre plot includes the US$12.5M Enmore Packaging Plant that was commissioned in 2011 by the PPP administration and it will be used by the joint venture to build a manufacturing facility to support Guyana’s emerging oil and gas sector. The announcement was made on the sidelines of the Guyana Energy Conference and Expo 2022, held at the Marriott Hotel, Kingston, Georgetown.
GKB is a joint venture made up of Guysons Engineering, a Guyanese company, and K+B Industries Inc, its American partner. Guysons Engineering was founded in 1992 and Guysons Oil and Gas, which was formed in 2017 with the help of ExxonMobil, the American oil giant operating in Guyana, became an ISO 9001-2015 certified oil and gas support company in 2018. It was awarded ExxonMobil contracts in 2019 and had moved to team up, in 2020, with K+B Industries Inc., a company that has decades of experience working in the oil and gas sector, to form a joint venture.
GKB has since set up a manufacturing shop in Ruimveldt, Georgetown and is now seeking to expand its operations by establishing another manufacturing facility at Enmore.
The new manufacturing facility at Enmore will be set up to manufacture and repair tubular goods such as drill pipes, drill covers, etc., needed by oil companies to develop oil fields. GKB will also offer premium threading of the tubular goods, accessory services and Turnkey manufacturing solutions in the country.
Union in the dark
Meanwhile, one day after the announcement of the sale of the plant, the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) that had championed the reopening of estates shuttered by the previous administration appeared unaware of the deal. “…Following the recent announcement that the Enmore packaging plant will be utilised towards the oil and gas sector, the GAWU has written the GuySuCo on February 17, 2022. Through our correspondence, we have sought, among other things, to address the employment of the 30-odd workers currently employed in the plant.
We have seen, from media reports, that GuySuCo plans to operate the plant through some alternative arrangements. We, at this time, are seeking to learn of these arrangements and what the next steps will envisage. The GAWU is aware that the Company continues to utilise the plant as it repositions itself as a value-added sugar producer.”
The GAWU added: “The Corporation, in a brief response to GAWU, has indicated that it will soon engage the Union in respect of the impending changes. At this time, our Union anticipates an early meeting with the GuySuCo.”
Commenting on the issue, prominent businessman, Terrence Cammpbell wrote on his Facebook page that it was only last month that Guysuco boasted that it was “able to earn G$1.7B from packaged sugar”. “Now, one month later, its packaging plant and some valuable lands are gone to a private investor. Even GAWU was troubled and commented that “we have seen, from media reports, that GuySuCo plans to operate the plant through some alternative arrangements. We, at this time, are seeking to learn of these arrangements and what the next steps will envisage. The GAWU is aware that the Company continues to utilize the plant as it repositions itself as a value-added sugar producer”. Campbell said transaction such as this surfaced with increasing frequency. “They represent the transfer of valuable public assets to private hands. They occur with hardly a question from the media. I am left to believe that the role of the Guyanese media is to report and not to question. I am an old Afro-Guyanese man who must focus on staying healthy. In this New Guyana, I may be the only person perturbed by opaque transfers of wealth. This is surely a sign that my ideas, values and concerns are those of a fossil.”
Meanwhile, following the backlash over the secret sale of the packaging plant, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha on Friday rushed to Enmore to meet with the workers to update them on the future of the facility after it was sold behind their backs. The workers were told that Guysons K+B Industries (GKB) had entered into an agreement with the Government of Guyana to lease the facility which will then be transformed into a modern oil field service center and manufacturing facility.
Minister Mustapha told the workers that as part of the agreement, the company was required to retain every worker employed at the facility and provide the necessary skills training so that workers were not left on the breadline. “We are here today because many workers expressed concerns after they learned that this packaging plant will be relocated to Albion. We are exploring that option because, as a government, we want to consolidate, recapitalize and we want to ensure GuySuCo is an entity that eventually becomes profitable. Over the last 18 months, since assuming office, we’ve allocated almost $14 billion to this Corporation. We’ve also injected funds into the shuttered estates like, here, at Enmore…” Mustapha is quoted in a Department of Public Information release as saying. He said: “as fate would have it, we are now looking to divest and we’ve met with an interested investor and signed an agreement that will see GKB leasing this packaging plant and transforming it into a modern machine shop. I want to make it clear that the workers who are employed will be absorbed by the company. So, you can rest assured that your jobs will be secured. From the government level, we’ll also make two months’ pay available to you to assist with the transition,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister Mustapha further stated that, as work progresses at the service station, an additional 460 new jobs will be created for the people of Enmore and other neighboring communities.
Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony who was also present at the meeting said with Guyana now benefiting from large oil finds, companies, directly and indirectly, involved in oil and gas will be looking to employ persons from Enmore and other surrounding communities who have the necessary skillset. “You will see us developing, as a government, a number of facilities in the East Coast. We want to create jobs for these people in these industries. We have large finds of oil offshore and, therefore, they would need certain machinery and parts for that industry. We have in this community, and in the surrounding communities, a lot of persons who have the skillset and I’m sure they will be looking for persons with those kinds of skills as they get this particular production up and running. In addition to that, they’re other interests, so its government’s intention to ensure that we develop this area and other surrounding villages so that more people can be employed,” Dr. Anthony noted.
The Minister of Health also told the workers that the government will be transforming the Enmore Poly Clinic into a modern regional hospital. This new health facility, he explained, will be outfitted with an accident/emergency section, a theater for surgeries, and an outpatient section among others. This project, he added, is expected to commence within the next three months.
Chief Executive Officer of Guysons Group of Companies, Faizal Khan said that workers can rest assured that they will receive the necessary skills training to ensure their transition is as smooth as possible. “This is a joint venture from Louisiana called Guysons K and B Industries. We’ve already been traded. We’ve already got contracts with ExxonMobil and others. What we intend to do here is pipe and oil field service work. I’ve spoken at length with the minister and the President mentioned on no less than four occasions “make sure you look after the people at the Enmore Packaging Facility and the people of Enmore”. I heard you are very hard-working people and I want to assure you that we will give you the necessary training so that your transition can be as smooth as possible,” Mr. Khan said.
Shadow Agriculture Minister and Opposition, Member of Parliament, Khemraj Ramjattan said the sale of the Enmore plant represents a disastrous and humbling moment for the PPP/C Government that had promised the nation that it would have reopened all the estates. Close to two years after taking office and after pumping billions into the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), government is still to fulfill its election campaign promise of reopening the shuttered sugar estates closed under the former administration.
In fact, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo back in December admitted that the administration was nowhere close to even realising the dream, saying: “the government is looking at proposals to return the estates to viability.” He said part of the effort involves merging the estates with other communities. “The key idea was to ensure that we first of all create alternative employment for people in areas where we could not return to sugar, that APNU had closed the estates,” Jagdeo is quoted in the Department of Public Information as saying. In 2020 $7B was channeled into the industry and over $6B in 2021. Another $B has been allocated to the industry in this year’s budget. GuySuCo has not been turning in a profit and last year floods crippled its operations in the operating estates.
In its Mid-Year report last year, which was released in October Government acknowledged that the sugar industry continues to decline. In the financial report, the Ministry of Finance noted that the non-oil economy grew by 4.8 percent and will contract further by the end of the year to 3.7 percent. “With regard to sector performance, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries for the first half of 2021 are estimated to have contracted by 2.4 percent compared with a decline of 4.1 percent for the corresponding period last year and it was noted that this was as a result of lower output from the other crops, sugar growing, forestry and fishing industries,” the report which is to be tabled in the National Assembly stated.
Turning to sugar, the report stated that at the end of the first half of the year, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) produced 29,650 tonnes of sugar. “This performance reflects the record high levels of rainfall, which resulted in waterlogged soils, particularly at the Albion Estate, and strike action that resulted in over 5,600 man-days being lost,” the Mid-Year Report indicated.
As such, it was emphasisd that the sugar industry declined by 22.4 percent when compared to the same period in 2020. Some of the reasons indicated were a 30 percent mortality of mature cane at Albion estate, 10 percent at Uitvlugt and 5 percent at Blairmont due to the floods. Another 15,000 tonnes of sugar in the second crop were also expected to be lost, based on the Report.
Back in 2017 the Coalition Government had unveiled what it termed a ‘State Paper on the Future of the Sugar Industry’, which it then said would focus on the poorly-performing estates and have them shift from sugar to diversification. The plan was to amalgamate Wales Estate with Uitvlugt Estate and reassign its cane to the Uitvlugt factory, since the estate is operating at 50 percent capacity. Sixty percent of its drainage and irrigation infrastructure is in a dilapidated condition. The corporation furthermore seeks to divest itself of the Skeldon Estate. The estates of Albion and Rose Hall were to be amalgamated and the factory at Rose Hall is to be closed.”
The Coalition had said that the industry would then consist of three estates and three sugar factories. The estates would be Blairmont on the West Bank Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice and the Uitvlugt-Wales estate in West Demerara. The three estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all five locations. By virtue of the amalgamation, the Enmore, East Coast Demerara (ECD) and Rose Hall, Berbice factories were to be closed. The PPP/C had criticised the move and made a central theme of its 2020 elections campaign to reopen all of the shuttered estates.
However, close to two years in office Jagdeo told the state media in an interview last year that: “timeline for viability on sugar is linked to how quickly we decouple sugar from other activities, and so going purely after sugar itself it would mean a longer term return to viability. If we can merge sugar with other economic activities on these estates which we are trying to do then we can achieve overall viability faster.”
He had said that the government will be examining several proposals for the sugar industry this year, even as he acknowledges that GuySuCo has not only a financial problem, but a production problem. Jagdeo said Albion estate produces about 50% of the country’s sugar and last year floods destroyed almost 80 percent of the cane for the next crop which will worsen the woes in the sugar belt