EDITORIAL - Sugar industry needs urgent attention
Production figures released by the sugar industry indicate that the 2012-2013 crop fell short of projections by some 10,000 tonnes. Lower-than-expected performance was recorded at factories operated by Chinese firm Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC) at Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge, which together account for 70 per cent of the sugar produced in the island.
Ambassador Derick Heaven, executive chairman of the Sugar Industry Authority, called it "a disappointing year".
Chinese company Complant Investment Sugar Industry Company, parent of PCSC, and two local entities invested in the Government's struggling sugar factories in 2011, stirring expectations that the industry would rebound somewhere close to its former heights of success. Industry watchers anticipated bustling activity with higher productivity, perhaps new cane varieties, and definitely higher sugar yields after refurbishing the old plants.
But only two of the five have shown progress. According to Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke, Pan Caribbean has challenges with its agronomic practices. But the minister has pledged to work with these investors to ensure that productivity levels improve.
The country also knows that Pan Caribbean has serious security issues. Recently, four bearings were stolen from its property in Clarendon. To that, we ashamedly say: "Welcome to Jamaica", where security and insurance are two of the big-ticket items which every local investor must face, because confidence in the capacity of the police to protect property and life has been seriously eroded.
PCSC has since terminated more than 130 of its local security personnel in favour of a private security firm. The unions have been fuming since and are demanding that the workers be reinstated. What will come of the workers and union's outrage, no one knows at this stage.
As if that is not enough, PCSC also inherited another serious problem. For years, it has been reported that government-owned factories did little to curb the theft of electricity by residents of surrounding communities to the tune of $100 million a year. Pan Caribbean has rightly refused to bear this burden. The impasse relating to roughly $200 million now owed to Jamaica Public Service Company has reportedly stalled Pan Caribbean's plans to erect a new sugar refinery. Yet, we hear government ministers trumpet the claim that Jamaica is open for business. Is it really?
STILL IMPORTANT TO ECONOMY
Sugar, which has marked so much of the pre-post colonial history of this country, was one of the main foreign-exchange earners, and it is still an important cog in the country's economic wheel, although it now trails remittances, tourism, and bauxite and alumina. Its importance as a major employer of rural folk cannot be ignored. So urgent steps should be taken to fix these problems and help to return the industry to viability, especially at a time when sugar is regaining currency on the world market.
At the moment, China is among the top-10 largest consuming nations of sugar. It is, therefore, conceivable that, as the company becomes more adept at marketing, it could be earning its fair share of sales in Asia.
Complant's former CEO remarked that revitalising Jamaica's sugar industry demands more than capital injection. He argued that it required policy support as well as an interdependent relationship between workers and management.
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