Founder member of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), Ashton Chase has called on government to appoint a competent board to help oversee the loss-making Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco).
“If the present ownership remains, the first step in this direction is the appointment by the authorities of a dedicated, experienced and productive management board,” he said. Addressing the opening of the 57th Delegates Conference of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), Chase said that if the state-owned Guysuco changes ownership, those in control would be expected to ensure that the industry returns to its “prosperous days”.
The pro-PPP Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the political opposition have been clamouring for similar features of a new Guysuco board as well as a strategic plan that would likely push up production and service the company’s huge debt.
Government plans to appoint a new Guysuco Board by July 1.
He reflected that sugar was once the leading contributor to Guyana’s economy but has since deteriorated to being none at all. “Instead it is heavily reliant on the state’s support or its very existence and full time operation,” said the 88-year old Chase. The National Assembly this year allocated GUY$6 billion to help bail the corporation out of its woes.
Guysuco’s sugar production target for this year has been set at 216,000. That’s after raking in only 187,000 tons in 2013- the lowest in 20 years- instead of the targeted 240,000 tons. The corporation owes its creditors, including suppliers and banks, more than GUY$10 billion. At the same time, its annual wage and salary bill is more than 60 percent of revenue
Chase, the only surviving PPP co-founder, noted that the huge investment to modernise the Skeldon Sugar Factory at a cost of more than US$200 million appeared to be a “further and serous loss to the industry and the country”. At the same time, he called for an end to the blame game about the state of Guysuco. ““This is not the occasion for casting blame and simply laying blame at the door of creators of the problem. It is the occasion to mount consultation and arrive at plans to help in the resurrection of the sugar industry,” said Chase, a former Minister of Labour, Trade and Industry.
The opposition Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have been consistently blaming the PPP-Civic for the collapse of the industry.
Chase further recommended that NAACIE and GAWU to engage the President about again making Guysuco profitable. “Although this will benefit the country, the trade unions in the industry have a primary and vital role to perform in its restoration,” he said. Among the priority issues that Chase recommended that the unions urgently address are mechanisation, elimination of water in cane fields and the scarcity of cutters.
Chase, Jocelyn Hubbard and Cheddi and Janet Jagan co-founded the PPP in 1950.