Georgetown, Guyana – (June 7, 2019) President David Granger, this morning, met with the management and staff of the Albion/Port Mourant Sugar Estate, East Berbice- Corentyne (Region Six) where he committed to ensuring that a stronger, smarter, sustainable and more profitable sugar industry is built and workers’ jobs are safeguarded. He was accompanied by Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder and Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuC0), Dr. Harold Davis Jr.
The President also committed to ensure that the $30 billion syndicated bond that has been secured by the Special Projects Unit (SPU) of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) is transferred to GuySuCo within a short space of time so that urgent needs can be met.
Speaking at the Estate’s Training Centre in Albion as well as to workers in the Estate’s factory, President Granger explained that his visit at the location was aimed at understanding the challenges facing the Estate so that appropriate decisions could be made at the policy level.
“Our sugar industry is going to recover from the difficulties it is facing. This sugar industry is not on the point of death…I am not here to bury the sugar industry. I am here to find out what your problems are. I have come to fix things. We are in the process of restructuring this industry to respond to changes, which have taken place both externally and internally. It is being restructured so that it can be revived; so that we can make this industry not just sustainable but profitable. We are not here to merely survive; we are here to thrive! We are here to guarantee employees’ livelihoods. We are here to guarantee sugar’s position in the national economy. We are here to safeguard the rural economy,” he said, to loud applause.
The Head of State noted that despite criticism, the Government, since 2015 has been doing everything humanly possible to ensure the industry thrives. Following the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the industry, the President reminded that a Task Force was established to develop recommendations on its restructuring after which a State Paper on the ‘Future of the Sugar Industry’, was presented to the National Assembly.
“A Corporate Restructuring Plan (CRP) was initiated following these processes. Part of that Plan is to produce 147,000 metric tonnes (MT) in the shortest possible time. Part of that Plan is basing production to three mega plantations – East Berbice, comprising the consolidated Albion-Rose Hall plantations; West Berbice, comprising Blairmont; and West Demerara, comprising the consolidated Uitvlugt-Wales plantations. These three plantations will bear the burden of sugar production and Government will give those sugar plantations whatever it can afford and needs to produce that 147,000. That is what we are going to do. We are in the business of sugar and we will produce sugar. We will not produce retrenched workers and obsolete factories,” he vowed.
The President noted that the consolidation of the Albion and Rose Hall plantations and the Uitvlugt and Wales plantations, resulted, unfortunately, in the separation of several thousand workers from the industry. However, he said while the Government regrets the outcome, this is not the first time in Guyana’s history that hard choices have had to be made to ensure the sustainability of the industry.
“Nearly 200 years ago, in the 19th century, there were 380 plantations but that declined to 239 three decades later. It declined further, in the ensuring years, to 138 by 1890; 80 by 1990; 39 in 1922; and by 1967 it was down to 18. There were only 11 sugar estates – Albion, Blairmont, Diamond, Enmore, La Bonne Intention, Leonora, Ogle, Rose Hall, Skeldon, Uitvlugt and Wales – by the time the Guyana Sugar Corporation was established in 1976. From 380, we came down to 11. I didn’t do that. It is the nature of the industry to consolidate and restructure to keep abreast with the changing international markets. The consolidation that we are talking about is nothing new. It has been going on for 200 years and it didn’t begin in 2015. Let us not forget that the East Demerara plantations – Diamond, Enmore and La Bonne Intention – were consolidated in 1998 and the administrative office for the merged estates was centralized at La Bonne Intention. The Enmore administrative office and field workshop were closed in the same year, 1998. I didn’t do that,” he asserted.
President Granger noted too that the Diamond Estate discontinued cultivation of 4,000 hectares in 2010 and the employees of that estate were transferred to La Bonne Intention while the La Bonne Intention factory was closed in 2011 and the majority of its workers were transferred to the Enmore factory. The Corporation employed over 20,000 workers in 1992 and by 2015, there were 15,000.
“So, you see that not only plantations were being consolidated, but the workforce was shrinking. This meant that 5000 were taken off the payroll, either by natural attrition or severance, between 1992 and 2015. We are faced with a situation in the industry where the only thing that is constant is change. Similarly, sugar production has not been static. We were producing an average of 264,963 MT annually in the decade 1996-2005, but declined by 14 per cent to an average of 208,718 MT in the following decade. The production cost has been difficult to bear. It used to be US$ 0.86 per kg in 2014 while the world market price was US$ 0.31 per kg; for every kg it was losing US$0.55. That is the reality of sugar production and we cannot ignore that reality,” he said.
President Granger believes that the CRP is at the heart of the revitalisation of the sugar industry and the Corporation projects that, with effective agricultural management and through capital investments, it can lower production costs to about US$0.40 per kg, making the industry more viable and profitable. Additionally, the Corporation’s plans for the short-term involve the rehabilitation of field infrastructure; the modernisation of production including cost-effective mechanization; the retooling of factories including energy efficient equipment and technologies; and increasing milling and other processing capacities.
“The Plan is rational, logical and doable. I believe that Albion is the hub of the modernisation programme and we believe that under that Plan and with improvements in marketing of sugar, better infusion of capital and investment, we can produce some of the best sugar in the Caribbean. This is what our ancestors bequeathed to us and I will not bequeath a museum to the children. I will bequeath to them a living thing called Albion Plantation. I am here to make the CRP work, to restructure the industry and to return it to sustainability and profitability. I have come here with a message of hope for the whole of Guyana, the future is bright and you are the future. This industry will thrive and will offer employment to those who seek employment. Albion will survive and the sugar industry will survive,” he said.
Meanwhile, the President said while it is the job of the Special Purpose Unit to divest the Corporation’s uncultivated estates and unproductive assets, the resources garnered from this process will be used to finance the industry’s restructuring in part.
“We were always interested in the success of GuySuCo and felt that this was the financially prudent course to pursue. I am here to let you know that Government is going to put the relationship between NICIL and the Corporation on a firm footing. The Government asked for a valuation of the Corporation’s assets. NICIL went ahead and received a G$30.0B syndicated bond, to provide financing for the Corporation. That money is coming to GuySuCo. This is in pursuit of a plan. We feel that GuySuCo has a credible corporate plan and we must all work together to achieve a good outcome. Everybody wins if GuySuCo wins. We are going to ensure that that money comes in a timely manner and in sufficient amounts,” he said.
President Granger also told the workers and their managers that he is prepared at any time, to engage with their unions as he has done in the past to ensure that they understand where the sugar industry is headed.
“I met with the sugar unions on December 31, 2016 and February 3, 2017 and, again, with the unions on January 19, 2018 because I am interested in working out with them how this industry will survive. I do not spurn them or refuse them. They are part of the future of the workers and I want them to understand our plans for the industry,” the Head of State expressed.
Estate Manager, Mr. Threbhowan Shivprasad, in his remarks, said that the Albion/Port Mourant Estate, with support from Central Government can see significant improvements and a turnaround by 2023. He also noted that there are numerous vacancies on the Estate, which the company is hoping to fill at the shortest possible time with persons from the Corentyne.
Mr. Shivprasad, like the other staff, expressed gratitude to the Head of State for visiting and listening to staff. He said today’s visit to the Estate represented the first time a Head of State has done so in that location.
The President also visited the Albion Primary School where he interacted with the pupils and teachers.