GuySuCo’s divestmentOver 71 Expressions of Interest (EoIs) have been received by the State for assets of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) as the Government forges ahead with plans to divest and minimise the sugar industry.Minister of State, Joseph HarmonSpeaking at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, explained that Government would move forward with these EoIs only after completion of the valuation of GuySuCo’s assets, which is currently being carried out by the United Kingdom-based firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).“That valuation will actually give us a good sense of what prices you’re actually looking at for the equipment, for the land, and all of these assets that belong to GuySuCo. So it’s an important step in the process to have these valuations done. So while some companies have actually made applications [and] expressed interest, what we are saying is: ‘Let us get the proper valuation and know exactly what it is that we’re doing’, so it is not done in a (piecemeal) manner,” he stated.According to Harmon, Government wants to ensure that this divestment process is done is an orderly and transparent way, especially since this is going to be one of the largest local transfers of State lands to private ownership.“So you don’t want allegations of favouritism, price-gouging and all of these things. We want to ensure a very smooth process, which will ensure that everyone gets a clear understanding and equal opportunity to purchase,” the State Minister posited.Sugar workers in line to collect severance payGovernment last year announced plans to minimise the local sugar industry and divest the corporation’s assets. To this end, a Special Purposes Unit (SPU) — which falls under the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) — was set up to oversee the divestment plans by way of either selling off or restarting factories with minimal staff to attract investors, both domestic and foreign.Room for improvementNICIL’s Special Purposes Unit (SPU) Head, Colvin Heath-London, has recently confirmed that, over the next few months, special emphasis would be placed on transforming GuySuCo’s economic misfortune into a situation wherein a fully self-sufficient, viable and competitive enterprise operates.However, asked about the performance of the three remaining estates – Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion — Minister Harmon has said they continue to function, but he believes there is room for improvement with the performance of these estates.“There is, of course, the need for some of these estates to really push themselves a little bit more; and I think that is something which we should look at. You’re also aware that DDL (Demerara Distillers Limited) had to actually import molasses because of a shortfall in their production, and these are things that we need to get right… These are what you call ‘low hanging fruits’ that are there that we should take advantage of,” he opined.Guyana Times reported earlier this week that the Albion Estate on the Corentyne Coast in East Berbice has vacancies for some 600 workers of various categories, and as such, may not be able to meet its target for the second crop, which is expected to commence within a few weeks, if most of those vacancies are not filled by then.SeveranceGovernment’s plan to minimise the sugar industry has seen the closure of the Skeldon, Enmore and Rose Hall Estates, making more than 5,700 workers redundant and putting them on the breadline. Before this, the Wales Estate was also shut down in 2016, leaving in excess of 1000 workers jobless.While the Wales workers are yet to be paid their severance, some of the more than 5000 dismissed workers who were entitled to $500,000 or less were paid in full. Those who had accumulated more than that amount received only half of their severance, and were promised by Government to be paid the remaining 50 per cent in the second half of the year.The Minister of State has assured on Thursday that Government is still committed to fulfilling this promise.“The Government had committed to paying the sugar workers the [remaining] severance, and I had said the time which was stipulated by the Government – in the second half of the year. Somehow, persons took that to mean immediately or shortly… but I wanted to clarify that I said ‘in the second half of the year’, and we are going to do that,” Harmon posited.As part of efforts to sustain the minimised GuySuCo and bring it into a state of profitability and financial stability, the SPU has secured $30 billion in the form of a syndicated bond to support the industry.Since this announcement, concerns have been raised about Government’s vision for the industry and the genuineness of its actions thus far, since that very $30 billion could have gone into restructuring the industry while keeping all of the estates open and GuySuCo’s workforce employed and engaged.Meanwhile, the Private Placement Memorandum for GuySuCo’s $30 billion bond has received much criticism from Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. He recently said he was shocked by the contents of the agreement, which now leaves more questions than answers.