Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Amid growing concerns about the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) Seepaul Narine has called for the sacking of the Chief Executive Officer of the corporation, Sasenarine Singh.
Singh’s tenure at the helm of the ailing sugar corporation has repeatedly come under attack owing to the lack of improvements despite billions being pumped into it. Narine made the call as he addressed a gathering at Enmore Thursday afternoon to commemorate the 74th Anniversary of the Enmore Martyrs. In a passionate speech before President Irfaan Ali who only two days ago called for sweeping changes at the corporation, Narine said: “We cannot allow the slide to continue. As the saying goes “heads must roll” and this should start from the topmost executive. Cde President, you summed it up rightly when you said revitalising the industry was serious business. Do not allow the ineptness to embarrass your Government any longer.”
Ali earlier this week at a meeting with senior officials of GuySuCo emphasised that it cannot be “business as usual anymore” and there must be sweeping changes. According to him, the corporation does not belong to any individual or group, but to the country. “We are not investing all of these resources in GuySuCo for failure. The restructuring and strengthening of GuySuCo is not a joke. When we said we want to make this industry viable, it is not a mystery.” “Success does not start with money, success starts with the right attitude, success starts with teams, success starts with people and if we can’t get this fundamentally right, then we have no hope of being successful—absolutely no hope of being successful,” President Ali said.
An issue that was raised during the meeting was the high turnover rate for field workers. But when told by estate managers from Albion and Blairmont that their plans envision a 60 per cent increase in mechanisation and the use of specialised tractors by 2026, the President noted that their time span must be slashed to 2024. “I know the problem, I understand the problem and that is why we have to accelerate this mechanisation,” the President said, tasking the Board of Directors and senior managers of the corporation to organise a sub-committee that will analyse the corporation’s objectives as soon as possible.
The President also told the senior officials to have a weekly management meeting, in order to improve communication and management. He said that the corporation will not advance if people have different visions. Additionally, he urged the senior officials to visit all of the estates and speak to all of the employees. “People depend on us, and I depend on you. At the end of the day, the buck stops at my Office. The same exercise conducted this morning at the senior level I want to be conducted at the estate level and junior staff level.” “I want all personality issues in this organisation to be stripped today… an organisation requires collective thinking and action,” he said, also urging the senior officials and managers to be humble in the execution of their duties.
Meanwhile, Narine, who is also a PPP/C, Member of Parliament said at the centre of the martyrdom was the sugar industry. “Today, the exploitative character of the industry has been condemned to history. Under the ownership of the State, the industry’s wealth played a meaningful role in developing our nation after enriching our foreign masters for hundreds of years. This, undoubtedly, is one of the lasting legacies of the Martyrs. Such feats of course cannot be separated from the successive struggles of the workers.” “Today, the industry remains in a difficult situation. The spiteful closure of estates during the term of the Coalition Government can never be forgiven or forgotten. For tens of thousands of Guyanese, it remains a scar that may never heal. Indeed, to those who authored and executed such policies they deserve our widest condemnation. We are certain that when that chapter of national history is written it will not be kind to them.”
The GAWU President said presently, “we are aware of the commitment of the His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali and his Government to revitalise the industry. This has been tangibly demonstrated and we see efforts of several estates to improve capacity and capability. We are encouraged by those developments. We also note too that at some former estates there are commitments to pursue re-development which may take us in another direction.”
However, Narine said GAWU remains apprehensive “as we considered the recently concluded first crop. It simply was an appalling performance, the lowest first crop output in the history of the Corporation. We have heard the explanations of weather, labour and machinery. Such rationales, we contend, are over exemplified to obscure the real issue which is poor leadership and management of the industry.” According to Narine, the degeneration has reached to the point where workers Credit Union savings deducted from their wages are not remitted. “It was pleasing, therefore, to recognise the President taking a proactive approach when we saw a few days ago His Excellency reportedly reading the Riot Act to the current leadership of the Corporation. Indeed, it appears, the President and the GAWU’s views are aligned. However, we say to you sir, action must be taken as a matter of urgency. We cannot allow the slide to continue. As the saying goes “Heads must roll” and this should start from the topmost executive. Cde President, you summed it up rightly when you said revitalizing the industry was serious business. Do not allow the ineptness to embarrass your Government any longer,” Narine concluded.
GuySuCo last year produced 30,865MT less of sugar when compared with 2020. Based on a report, GuySuCo’s pre-audited production stood at 58,025MT of sugar in 2021 compared to 88,890MT in 2020. Despite the significant shortfall, the Corporation had said it met all the needs of the local market for 2021. It was explained that the shortfall was a result of the loss of some 35 percent of the standing cane during the 2nd Crop of 2021 due to the flood.
“At Albion, where 50 percent of the production was programmed to be made, the mortality rate for the standing canes planned to be harvested for the 1st Crop of 2022 is estimated at 80 percent due to the floods. On the Berbice Estates where more than 77 percent of the production is made, the rainfalls in 2021 were 72 percent more than the previous year,” GuySuCo detailed, while noting that it drained some 4.5 million tonnes of water off the land daily during the 65-day flood.
The ailing sugar corporation has, over the years seen a continuous decline in performance in terms of production but has seen billions of dollars from the nation’s coffers being plugged annually into the industry. In its Mid-Year report last year, the Irfaan Ali Government had acknowledged that the sugar industry continues to decline. In the financial report, the Ministry of Finance said that at the end of the first half of 2021, 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 emphasised 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 five 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, two years after being in office, the government has not been able to reopen any of the estates. In fact, late last year Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo told state media 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 said the government will be examining several proposals for the sugar industry this year, even as he acknowledged that GuySuCo has not only a financial problem, but a production problem. For last year alone, GuySuCo received over $6 Billion from the national treasury. It received a further $6B in this year’s budget.