THE Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) wishes to respond to a letter published in the Stabroek News on April 5, 2017 and titled, ‘GAWU is predicting low production figure for first crop’ and authored by Mr Sase Singh.
In his letter, Mr Singh noted ‘I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I got the Combat newspapers in my inbox. For the record, the Combat is printed by the GAWU, the largest workers’ union in Guyana. In the Combat, it is clearly stated that as at the week ending March 25, 2017, GuySuCo produced 20,037 tonnes of sugar from a target of 74,172 (or 27%).’
Mr Singh further proceeded to cast blame for the low production on various sections of GuySuCo’s management; and the management would not abdicate its responsibility. Indeed, management of the corporation has a responsibility to manage the entity as efficiently as possible, to produce the highest quality of sugar and it takes that responsibility very seriously.
Additionally, GuySuCo would be the first to admit that the production target of March 25, 2017 was lower than expected; the production figures are public information. However, a fundamental and important aspect which Sase Singh missed, is context. That is, the organisational and wider societal context in which GuySuCo has found itself at this point in time.
Mr Singh’s letter is also very superficial. One would have thought that he would have done some reasonable research before writing. If his research had covered earlier releases and articles relating to the sugar corporation, he would have better understood some of the deeper issues confronting Guyana’s sugar industry. The industry’s problems did not happen overnight. It was already in deep crisis when the interim management committee and new board were appointed in June and July, 2015, respectively. It was soon recognised that addressing the ills of the corporation and industry could only be done by serious reorganisation which is a pre-requisite for retooling and improving productivity. This has been the focus of the current management and board. Additionally, the EL Nino phenomenon and the erratic weather pattern which followed were not “caused by management.”
On the Skeldon Estate situation: the co-generation plant was sold to Skeldon Energy Inc. (SEI) in February, 2015. SEI subsequently commissioned an audit of the co-generation plant by Wartsilla, which indicated that the plant was in a very poor state. In mid-2016, SEI had to obtain funding for a limited programme to improve the safety of the plant. Unfortunately, this was not enough, by the end of the second crop 2016, further work was needed to render the co-generation plant safe to operate. The corporation had no option but to defer the start of the 2017 crop for safety reasons. Mr Singh attributes this to lack of proper planning. We do believe that this is more a function of the extent of the deteriorated state of the plant and the very limited funds which are available to address the problem.
Why is production low? Much has been said over the past months about the state of the industry and the underlying causes. While the corporation has been working tirelessly on those factors, which are within its control, the solutions are not overnight fixes and the El Nino experience followed by the erratic weather which continues to date, do not help.
Therefore, while production is a part of the focus of the corporation for 2017, its primary focus is aimed at clearly defining the future of the industry and strengthening the organisation to ensure that it is fit-for–purpose, or rather, fit to meet the demands of the ‘New GuySuCo’.
As most persons are aware, the ‘New GuySuCo’ will include two components – sugar and diversification. The organizational-strengthening aspect includes improving systems and structures and developing, recruiting and positioning appropriate skills and expertise to ensure that the corporation has not only the right capacity, but also the right capabilities to secure a future entity that is resilient, sustainable and eventually profitable.
The management is cognisant of the fact that in order for productivity to be increased, it has to as a preliminary step, bring stability to the business; and this is being done by focusing on resuscitating the vital organs of the corporation – its systems and structures.
Another critical area of focus is changing the current organisational behavioural patterns. For example, strikes are doing much harm to the business and has proven largely not to be an enabling factor in the increase productivity drive, hence the urgent need to foster more collaborative working relationships with the three unions to reduce strikes and explore alternative means of resolving disagreements in the industry. In 2016 alone, there were 148 strikes and 44,500 man-days were lost. This has to change moving forward.
Additionally, the corporation is addressing the huge issue of poor attendance by harvesters on estates, since if adequate labour is not available to harvest the canes in a timely manner, productivity will invariably be low.
In concluding, as Mr Singh examines the industry and its productivity, we hope that this letter will assist in broadening his perspective beyond the financial and accounting aspects to factor in the more complex organisational and societal context within which GuySuCo is operating. We also hope that we have given him some assurances on our larger focus for re-designing, re-organising and re-engineering the corporation and more specifically, the core agenda for 2017.
Senior Communications Officer
Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo)