Skeldon Sugar Estate Assets Sale is Cause for Concern: GAWU


The following is a statement form the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU):

The GAWU has learnt, through newspaper advertisements over the last few days, that the NICIL-SPU is undertaking the sale of sugar assets that were attached to the now-shuttered Skeldon Estate. The advertisement, we recognized, seeks interested persons and organizations to express interest in what are deemed ‘unserviceable’ motor vehicles and motor cycles.

This is now the latest iteration of the sellout of assets belonging to the sugar industry by the NICIL-SPU. Previously information reaching the Union, had indicated, that the NICIL-SPU sold several movable items from the sugar estates placed in its hands. We had learnt earlier this year, that tractors, motorcycles and agricultural implements were sold at what could be deemed basement prices. It was opined that the assets disposed could have obtained superior prices. This view, we should add, as far as we recollect, was never denied nor corrected by NICIL-SPU. Also they were concerns regarding whether the sale prices resembled the valuation that was carried out. Then, of course, we recall, concerns being raised about the sale of so-called scrap iron from the closed estates. That sale, we understand, brought in a large sum and again it was felt that higher prices could have been obtained. In fact, our Union was made to understand, that one buyer managed who purchased the ‘scrap iron’ at the Wales factory made a hefty profit from the deal.

Previously, the Government had committed to ensuring the sale of sugar assets was above reproach and was transparent. Our Union recalled that Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, in responding to questions regarding the sale of the Skeldon factory, is quoted in the August 15, 2017 Guyana Times, as saying “[t]his (sale) has to be done in a very transparent process, because this Government prides itself on accountability and transparency”. We also recollect that former Minister of State, now Director-General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, is reported in the July 24, 2018 Kaieteur News as saying with respect to the divestment of sugar assets that “…Government will not sacrifice accountability and transparency in the process”. The reality, it appears, has been divorced from what was committed to.

In terms of the planned sellout, these so-called unserviceable vehicles, we gather, were previously operable when they were being used by the Skeldon Estate. We should add though that, we understand, some were aged they were still not unservicable. We cannot help but wonder how they became unserviceable and if they really are in such a state.

We also saw in the October 31, Guyana Chronicle that Mr Charles Browne, who is said to be the SPU’s officer-in-charge at Wales Estate disclosed that some 511 acres of former cane lands are now under rice cultivation ostensible by NICIL-SPU. Mr Browne went on, according to the Chronicle, to say “[o]ne investor already has 116.7 acres of rice to harvest now… another [rice farmer] closer to Number 2… has 438 acres…”. Our Union, and we are sure the nation, would be interested to know who have been leased lands at Wales.

On this matter, we have also learnt, through a usually reliable source, the lands that were connected to the Wales Estate have by and large been allocated to persons. We hasten to wonder who has been leased the valued lands and for what purposes? It would be interesting to learn about the lease fees. Moreover, have any obligations been placed on leasees to employ the former estate workers? Given the hardship that now stalks the communities connected to Wales, we believe, such requirements ought to have been insisted upon.

We also believe that the redundant workers would have been at least, given an opportunity, to express their interests in securing some of the lands to engage in agricultural pursuits. Our information indicates there was no such approach to the workers. Interestingly, and upsettingly, we saw Mr Browne being reported to have said “[t]he estate has been assisting private rice farmers and other private investors in converting the lands from the former sugar cane lands”. This only further rubs salts in the wounds created by the closure and joblessness that has ensued.

In more recent times, we have noticed that NICIL has been engaged in the sale of many assets which are owned by the State and placed under its control. In fact, our Union, in a cursory glance of the October 19, Official Gazette, observed, that six (6) orders were signed by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan regarding the transfer of lands and properties which were vested to NICIL to private individuals. Similarly, sections of the media, had reported about what appeared to be the giveaway of land and even sections of our country’s rivers to various persons which comes at the same time when the Administration has questionable status. While we did know some explanation was given it does not negate the facts at hand.

This latest sell-out of sugar assets comes, at the same time when the GuySuCo is required to use its, limited, scarce resources to procure assets for its operations. This is especially disheartening since both NICIL-SPU and the GuySuCo are siblings under the umbrella of the State. It appears that NICIL-SPU has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to these concerns especially when it had said in the past; it has a vested interest in the success of the GuySuCo. Undoubtedly, its actions are inimical to its utterances.