SINCE taking office almost four months ago, The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government has been moving ahead with its plans to re-open three of the four sugar estates shuttered by the coalition government. The process has already begun with the rehiring of almost 700 employees to carry out preliminary work on the sugar factories in preparation for the grand reopening in 2022. So far, 270 workers were rehired at the Rose Hall Estate, 226 at Skeldon and 194 at Enmore at a cost of GYD$126 million. According to the CEO of GuySuCo, Mr. Sasenarine Singh, by mid-to the end of 2021, the state entity will provide employment for some 3,000 of the 7,000 workers who were laid off—about 1600 at Rose Hall and roughly 1400 at Enmore. The Rose Hall factory will be the first to reopen, followed by Enmore and Skeldon. Today, only three estates are in operation—Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion. It is estimated that the reopening of the three sugar estates will cost GuySuCo approximately GYD$6.3 billion—GYD$2.8B on Rose Hall, GYD$2.1B on Enmore and GYD$1.4B on Skeldon.
GuySuCo, once the principal earner of foreign currency and still the largest employer in the productive sector with more than 9,000 employees, is a key pillar of the country’s economy. It fell on hard times for a variety of reasons and had to rely on subsidies from governments to keep it afloat. This was due largely to a lower price and a lower demand for sugar on the world market, loss of the preferential market and corruption. However, the Irfaan Ali administration has vowed to reopen the estates, rehire most of the laid-off workers and make the estates stable again. Indeed, I am sure GuySuCo would have been thrilled to provide employment for more persons, but it cannot do so at this point in time since the corporation does not have the field equipment, especially tractors required to advance its work. The closing of the sugar factories three years ago has resulted in major damage to machinery and the factories and there was no tractor on site on some of these estates as NICIL operators carried out a great plunder between 2017 and 2020 on these estates. Key equipment have vanished from the factories.
In addition, the cane lands have been abandoned and are teeming with bushes which need to be cleared, tilled and planted, but one cannot plant sugar cane with their fingernails, but powerful ploughing implements to be pulled by powerful 200 HP tractors such as the ARTICULATED tractors to get the job done. As a result, the burden is now on the state-owned entity and its CEO Sase Singh to get the machinery back in working condition and to purchase the suitable tractors required to till the land in preparation for planting and hence for the reopening of the factories. The process of acquiring 44 ARTICULATED tractors is underway at a cost of some $1.2 billion (not the sorts of inflated figures as reported in some media outlets). It has come to my attention that the first six (6) tractors would cost about G$26 million each and each of them is over 200 HP and are ARTICULATED sugar-specific tractors, rather than the generalist agriculture, rice or FIXED-FRAME tractors that have consistently failed the tillage programme of GuySuCo.
While some inside of GuySuCo and others in the public have opined that the tractors are too expensive, the truth is, the ARTICULATED tractors are “sugar-specific tractors” which means that they are tailored to the specific needs of the sugar industry. They are different from the FIXED-FRAME and the CRAWLER tractors. The ARTICULATED tractors are very flexible and based on their engineering design, during operation they “can turn into half” or “break into two” and they are powered on all their four wheels. Because real mechanical power is in all four wheels, these ARTICULATED tractors function much easier on the sugar cane fields. In the final analysis, they are most suitable for the sugar-cane industry to enhance yield and meet production targets and this has been proven empirically both at GuySuCo and in the universities in the United States. Whereas the FIXED- FRAME tractors are considered generalist and rice tractors and are powered by its two rear wheels, the CRAWLER tractors are equipped with four large same-size wheels which make them very slow and heavy and more suitable for the forest industry.
That said, it is extremely important for the public and for those opposed to the purchasing of the ARTICULATED tractors to know that during the 1970s when Harold Davis, Sr. was the CEO of GuySuCo, the production of sugar was at its peak because the ARTICULATED tractors were used to till the land. However, in 2009, there was a substantial decrease in the production of sugar due to the fact that the state-owned corporation switched from using ARTICULATED tractors to the FIXED-FRAME tractors. It was a colossal mistake to say the least, that had cost the nation billions of dollars. This brings me to the quote by writer, philosopher and Harvard Professor George Santayana, who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We cannot and must not make such a mistake again because thousands of lives and several communities are dependent on the survival of GuySuCo. It is time for us to once again cast our solid support for “King Sugar” and GuySuCo’s CEO Sasenarine Singh and his team.
Dr. Asquith Rose