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GuySuCo’s $16B bailout request fast-tracks need for inquiry into sugar industry

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder

by Zena Henry

Even as government sets to consider a massive GUY$16 billion bailout for the financially crippled Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Agriculture Minister Noel Holder is even more anxious to put together the team of Commissioners to probe the ailing sugar sector before the end of next month.

 “The Commission of Inquiry will inquire into what went wrong, any abuses that might have happened, the problems that they encountered and where it should be going because you cannot be open-endedly handing GuySuco billions of dollars every year. It is not a bottomless pit so you have to know where you are going,” he told Demerara Waves Online News on Friday.

GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer Rajendra Singh told Demerara Waves that he met with the Minister one day ago, and according to the Ministry, the sugar industry is requesting $16B to keep them afloat for the rest of the year. Minister Holder hopes to meet with Finance Minister Winston Jordan this afternoon in relation to the requested finance.

He stated however that the sizable request would be taken to Cabinet next Tuesday and any determinations will be made there. Holder is adamant however that he is working effortlessly to convene the Commission of Inquiry before the end of June and is seeking answers in three months time; that is expected to be at earliest, September.

“I am looking for answers in three months time,” the Minister said, pointing out that his Ministry is holding firm to the promise made in the 100-day plan that was part of the government’s campaign manifesto. He added that the findings and recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry would influence how much money is allocated to the sickly industry in the 2016 national budget.

It will have to be decided however, whether the government is willing to give GuySuCo all that is requested or whether a partial sum will be handed over since the according to the industry’s CEO, GuySuCo will be unable to pay its staffers after May 31. This sum is due for consideration especially when the new government is still in the process of putting its budget together.

Aside from the huge cash injection being requested, the state-owned sugar corporation on Friday obtained a US$2 million loan from Jamaica’s National Commercial Bank (NCB) to help finance operations for another few weeks.

He added that the European Union has also got money lined up for the sugar industry, but will not be releasing that until Parliament reopens, where the necessary oversight is available. GuySuco, he said, also hopes to be paid another GUY$2 billion for the cogeneration plant that will all help to “bail the situation out.”

Meanwhile, the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) has urged that the country and government not fall hostage to GuySuCo, which they believe is “a national disaster.” The GTUC believes that the sugar industry is in need of parliamentary review, “which must be opened for the public and stakeholders to have input on the state of the industry, its future and the workers’ wellbeing.”

Wading into the industry’s management, GTUC is adamant that those responsible should be held criminally culpable.

“It is instructive super-remunerated Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Rajendra Singh, a PPP candidate in the 2015 elections, has only within the last two weeks realised that GuySuCo cannot pay workers. Politicians who use public office to entrench themselves or sacrifice our nation for power and greed should be held accountable to some rule of law or ethics. The action of the CEO borders on criminal sabotage and there must be some financial law that can hold these custodians of GuySuCo accountable in a court of law for mismanaging the Welfare Fund, NIS contributions and the entity.”

GTUC called on GuySuCo’s workers to resist efforts of political and other forces seeking to use labour to advance a political agenda. The Union said that, “for too long sugar workers have been exploited to serve political interest…”

GuySuCo accommodates more than 16,000 workers.