(www.biznow.gy) – Agri sector $15.7B allocation given green light
The National Assembly on Wednesday voted in favour of an allocation of $15.756B for the agriculture sector, but not after close to four hours of grilling the sector Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.
The $6B subvention for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) generated much interest, as the Opposition sought answers to how the allocation will be utilised, and how this would help to stem the challenges of the industry and provide the way forward for the resuscitation and revitalisation of the industry.
A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Member Dr Rupert Roopnarine from the onset was clear in establishing that this would be one of the matters that the Opposition may have need to refer to the Committee of Supply if the Minister failed to provide cast iron assurance.
The APNU Member of Parliament was among others who identified the need for the appointment of a new ‘competent’ board which is critical for the industry’s turn around.
Minister Ramsammy established the need for the allocation and expressed the hope that it would be approved as the industry requires and deserves the allocation.
He assured, too that radical changes are being proposed for the new Guysuco board appointed for July 1. The Minister said that the President and Cabinet are engaging persons, who would bring experience of business, marketing, mechanisation and agronomy to the industry.
He said too that he was prepared to engage the National Assembly on the appointments, and expressed confidence that some of the names being proposed and have been generally agreed on for the board will find favour in the House.
The Minister sai $1.1B will account for land conversion; $1B will be expended on the tillage and replanting programme, another billion on the capital programme in the factories including replacing old and outdated pumps, improvement of factory automation at Albion, works on the two punt dumpers at Skeldon and the upgrade of boilers at Uitvlugt. Another $1B will be spent on investments in all-weather roads for easier access and on the purchase of various pieces of agricultural equipment.
Meanwhile, Alliance for Change Member Moses Nagamootoo pointed out that since 2011 the House has been asked to give $11B to Guysuco. He wanted answers with regards to how much of these allocations went to increase workers numeration and working conditions. Nagamootoo also asked about Guysuco’s indebtedness and the impact this year’s $6B allocation would have on the indebtedness.
In response, Minister Ramsammy explained that over the years Guysuco used its own resources to address some of the investments in the industry for improving the factory, but now it needs help to meet operational costs, and the $11B allocated in 2012 and 2013 would have met the increase of the wage bill, Annual Production Incentive (API) payment and operational cost. The exact amount for each the Minister promised to provide later.
The Minister also explained that Guysuco has outstanding money owing with regards to the investment in Skeldon and outside of these, money owing to various creditors in the long-term and some in the short- term, in response to Nagamootoo’s questions as to the level of indebtedness of the sugar company.
Nagamootoo also asked for a forensic audit into the spending of the $44M that was allocated for the Skeldon factory.
Minister Ramsammy said that such an audit was not something that was put in place, but noted that Guysuco has been audited yearly and the reports presented to the National Assembly.
In the end, Minister Ramsammy expressed confidence that Guysuco will reach its 2014 target of 216,000 tonnes and its 2017 target of 350,000 tonnes.
Other allocations under the ministry that came under scrutiny include those to the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA). Concerns were raised as to whether the agency had worked to overcome the shortcomings and deficiencies indentified by the Auditor General, and whether the ministry has moved to having its own accounting department as mandated by the law.
Minister Ramsammy said that agency has been working with the Auditor General on the issues and has in this regard improved management, and towards last quarter of 2014 established its own accounting department.
Questions were asked about the increased allocations to the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and Minister Ramsammy explained the expansion of services and mandates of the two agencies.
The Agriculture Ministry’s allocation provides for $13.333B towards the Ministry’s administration to ensure effective and efficient management and coordination of human, financial, physical and material resources necessary for the successful implementation and administration of the ministry’s programme and operations.A sum total of $1.818B is for crop and livestock support services aimed to promote and support the growth and development of agriculture in Guyana through the provision of a range of technical and regulatory services to the sector.
The Fisheries section will receive $138.312M to manage and promote the sustainable and development of the nation’s fishery resources for the benefit of the participants in the sector, and the nation, and the hydro-meteorological service’s $466.270M to observe, archive and understand Guyanese weather and climate and provide meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic services in support of Guyana’s national needs and international obligations.