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Hill's new sugar job raises PNP eyebrows

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

FORMER BANKER Aubyn Hill has been re-engaged by Government to divest its sugar assets.

Hill's renewed relationships with the Government was announced by Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton in Parliament on Tuesday.

Tufton told the House of Representatives that Hill will also be paid one per cent of divestment proceeds from the sugar assets. He will also be paid $7.5 million per year to manage Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings as its chief executive officer.

Tufton said Hill will no longer be a member of the SCJ Holdings board.

"His principal role will be to manage the operations of SCJ Holdings so as to ensure continued improvements in efficiency of Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge, without recourse to the public purse, as well as accelerate the divestment of these estates," Tufton said.

Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting said the arrangements under which Hill was re-engaged was strange.

"It is highly unusual for the CEO of an entity to be divested to also be the one responsible for the divestment. It would appear to me that a number of potential conflicts of interest would arise in that situation," Bunting said.

Tufton, however, said Hill will be accountable to the board of SCJ Holdings, and all decisions relating to the divestment would be taken to Cabinet for its final approval.

Hill's last contract to divest the Government's sugar assets was reviewed last year. It was, however, not renewed. At the time, a company he led was paid nearly $2 million monthly to divest the assets. Tufton insisted then that the country got value for money. He argued that, even though the assets of Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge were not divested, Hill was instrumental in the country inking a forward sale agreement for sugar with Italy-based company Eridania Suisse.

Meanwhile, Tufton told the House that SCJ Holdings has been having discussions with Eridania Suisse, as well as Tate Lyle, with the intent to enter into a partial pre-shipment financing agreement for the next two crops until the assets are divested. Tufton said partial arrangements are in place and are being finalised by lawyers.

The agriculture minister also told Parliament that a commission of enquiry is being established to review the current regulatory and pricing arrangements for sugar.