Sugar divestment had its advantages - stakeholders
Allan Rickards, the outspoken chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association, is arguing that despite the varied criticisms, there have been many advantages to privatisation of Jamaica's sugar industry.
After years of being a drag on the Government's purse, in 2009, a bold decision was taken by the Government to put the production of sugar into private hands. As a consequence, all the factories under government control were divested.
While addressing a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum in Westmoreland, Rickards said the divestment resulted in a shedding of some of the old practices, which were holding back the factories, as the new owners were forced to adopt new approaches in their bid to maximise on their investments.
"It is fully forcing people to relinquish the old idea that you can land a ship at Ocho Rios, fill its hull with sugar and live on that, plus the fact that you make rum," Rickards said, in explaining the old concept employed in the pre-divestment era.
"In addition, unlike other local industries, the sugar industry has to be managed and operated in a sensitive way for its survival.
"Where $50-million remedial help in coffee can do some good, $50 million can do no good in the sugar industry," noted Rickards.
"So the Government, if for political survival alone, must contemplate a future for the sugar industry while the private sector is finally deciding to step up to the plate and instigate a situation where the industry is run by the private sector and regulated only by the Government," added Rickards.
Ambassador Derrick Heaven, a former board chairman of Jamaica Cane Product Sales, echoed similar sentiments, noting that there have been some amount of post-divestment benefits, highlighting the adjustments being made to the marketing of the product.
"It is a good thing that there is now a mindset to look not just about the marketing of bulk sugar," said Heaven, in noting the scope for diversification and the asking of important questions about moving the sector forward.
"Now we have to look at what it is. Am I going to make ethanol or produce electricity?"
Heaven, who is one of the most respected voices in sugar globally, is also the former executive chair of the Sugar Industry Association.