Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Monymusk divestment idle

Published:Thursday | November 14, 2019 | 12:32 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
CEO of the Sugar Industry Authority, George Callaghan, answering questions at the annual general meeting of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association yesterday, while manager Nigel Myrie listens. Photo by Christopher Serju
CEO of the Sugar Industry Authority, George Callaghan, answering questions at the annual general meeting of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association yesterday, while manager Nigel Myrie listens. Photo by Christopher Serju

An enterprise team that was set up to evaluate and fast-track divestment options for the Monymusk Sugar Factory in Clarendon has been accused of falling asleep on the job has failed to meet since it was established in early 2018 despite the urgency of its mandate.

Chief executive officer of the Sugar Industry Association (SIA), George Callaghan, told The Gleaner during yesterday’s annual general meeting of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers’ Association (AIJCFA) at the Denbigh Showground, Clarendon, that despite its robust membership, the team has not lived up to expectations.

“Enterprise team was set from early last year, but it has not met except for once and there was no quorum,” he disclosed.

Callaghan, along with immediate past president of the AIJCFA, Allan Rickards, is a member of the committee that is chaired by SIA Chairman Phillip Henriques, with at least two others selected by the agriculture minister.

Its mandate is to look into viable investment proposals for the factory for which Government continues to provide bailouts even though it does not own the factory.

Selecting best proposal

Callaghan told The Gleaner that the mandate of the enterprise team is to sift through the proposals and determine which, if any, should be recommended to Minister of Investment, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw. He also explained the rationale behind Government’s ongoing interest into the operations of the factory, which is still owned by Pan Caribbean, a Chinese company.

“The basis of all this is that the Government, as the owners of the land around the factory, would be in a position to lead on the process of divestment, given the social and economic imperatives of ensuring that there is some economically viable operation in southern Clarendon,” said Callaghan.

“If a worthy proposal was identified, they would then enter into discussions with Pan Caribbean about how they would dispose of the factory, because they have said they are not interested in continuing the operation.”

Sugar estates at Monymusk in Clarendon, Bernard Lodge in St Catherine, and Frome in Westmoreland were divested by the Government to the Chinese state-owned entity COMPLANT, through its subsidiary, which trades as Pan Caribbean Sugar Company. The Clarendon-based factory has lost more than J$6 billion since the takeover.

More than $300 million in state subsidies has spent to prop up the ailing Clarendon estate.

Admitting that infrastructure at the Clarendon sugar factory continues to deteriorate, the SIA CEO said the enterprise team needs to get cracking.

“My understanding – and I have not seen all of the proposals – is that there are seven. I have only seen one, and I understand that it is not just an issue of the sugar cane, but any proposal which is bankable would be looked into, but the enterprise team needs to get active, and that is the problem.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com