Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Skeldon
(Aired 19 May 2005)

      I have been saying that the Skeldon expansion project is just a pipe dream. And

That most of the managers I speak to think that it is highly unlikely that we can bring it off. This is a 120 million US dollar project to build the mill alone as far as we were told, but there are other costs which can triple this figure to 360 million US so let's see what is involved in the establishment of this project and why we managers with experience in sugar think that it is a big gamble.

   I will not deal with the building of the factory using Chinese equipment in depth, I do not even know if this factory will come with English instructions.

   For centuries we have used British equipment in all of our factories, Fletcher and Stewart mills, Nash pumps, GEC electrical motors, OC Filters so the GYUSUCO central stores has within its database common spares which can work from Uitvlugt to Skeldon factories and all in between and this is the way it should be, to operate economically as  far as spares are concerned, it is always advisable to have all your equipment from the same manufacturer, for example if you are some kind of contractor and you have 5 excavators buy 5 of the same type and model if possible, so when you stock up on spares you only have to buy one set of spares for all five excavators, if they are from different manufacturers then you have to stock up on 5 different type of spares, in other words your standby stores cost would be 5 times greater. So if I were doing this expansion I would buy from the companies that we currently deal with for all the factories so that we can establish uniformity in holding spares even if those parts were more expensive initially.

    So even though I am not a factory engineer myself, if you are going to run an estate you better learn about your factory in short order or you are going to get into all sorts of trouble, I would not have bought a Chinese mill. So our first act in this project is to me a wrong move. But let's move to areas which are more familiar to me.

   Currently Skeldon has 13,800 acres of cane; these 13,800 acres produce 36.000 tons of sugar cane for the factory a year. Skeldon is, or was, one of the best yielding estates in terms of sugar per acre historically, however bad management over the past few years have reduced the yield significantly, I am sure that the people at Skeldon would be happy to tell you why and who contributed to this decline. It is also the estate with the least rainfall in the country as an annual average over 100 years, so apart from the fact that the labour is short there, it is not a bad location for expansion especially if mechanisation is involved i.e. low rainfall facilitating mechanical operations.

   The expansion at Skeldon will necessitate the supply of 110 thousand tons of cane a year to the factory almost 3 times what it is now. 

   These huge expansions almost always result in lower tons of sugar per acre in the existing cultivation as well as the area of expansion, also inevitably the expansion will include areas of low fertility, the drainage trenches have to be longer since the cultivation becomes deeper the further back you expand, and so these lands become inevitably further away from the river or Ocean that the estate drains into, in this case the Corentyne River, drainage structures have to become bigger since you want to drain lands that once formed part of a swamp. None of these issues have been addressed as far as I am concerned and I have actually seen his pipe dream expansion plan on paper.

   Let's take one of these issues and put it under the microscope to see if it can stand up to scrutiny, to get 110,000 tons of cane we have to expand the cultivation by 4 times. The plan calls for 3 times since the inexperienced and optimistic people designing this system are estimating no drop in yield per acre in fact they are estimating, unrealistically, given their lack of resources, an improvement in yield. Their thinking is that 36,000 tons from 13,800 acres multiplied by 3 times will give 110,000 tons, but I am saying now, that the yield of Skeldon will drop to 2.0 tons of sugar per acre for the reasons I have outlined here i.e. by expanding, you will be doing so into a substantial area of marginal lands, you will be shifting a considerable amount of top soil in the areas which are not marginal lands which in this country is always bad news in terms of cane growth, you will be putting an extra strain on existing drainage structures unless you have catered to rebuild the entire drainage system of the estate for example all drains would now have to be 175% wider than now, all kokers will have to be increased to 175% of what's there now and you will inevitably create a shortage of indigenous labour to perform the hand work necessary to keep the yields high in your existing and expansion areas etc. Any sugar estate worker knows what this means relieving, cleaning up etc.

   Our accumulated knowledge to this date tells us that to get increased yields in our sugar industry from expansion you have to estimate 150% increase in acreage to double your production and not 100 percent as they are estimating at Skeldon, this is due to the loss in yield that will inevitably occur, so now we are talking about 110,000 tons of sugar divided by 2 tons of sugar an acre, equals a 55,000 acre cultivation at a minimum and not the 41 thousand acres that this project visualises. When you minus the current Skeldon cultivation from this amount, this expansion will have to be 41,000 acres and not 27,700 acres as the plan visualises. This expansion is short by 14 thousand acres, exactly the acreage of Skeldon now!! Are you beginning to get the picture ladies and gentlemen? But there is more.

   This is the middle of 2005, the foundation for the mill is still being laid and the factory is presumably in transit to Guyana, no one really knows exactly, Mr. Luncheon sits there every week and gives us completely irrelevant information but we never get to question him since Lambada is there, doing his song and dance, to keep the media away from grilling Luncheon about the facts, who and why are getting government contracts and not what contracts are being awarded, where is the Skeldon mill? Why has the NIS not put their annual report in Parliament? Why has GUYSUCO not put their annual report in the Parliament since 2001? taking two/three hours of our time to give information which can take 15 minutes, if Luncheon is not going to allow questions, why the charade? Just issue a press release every week and tell us in writing that way we don't have to waste our limited resources tying up valuable manpower for several hours a week to listen to this nonsense, I have no doubt that it is done to impress the international community that the local media are being kept informed of what is going on in the Cabinet, but it is a sick joke.

  Anyway we have maybe three/four years before the factory is built at Skeldon, those among you who think that this is a project that will come on stream before 7-10 years, think again, and I am being very generous, before the factory gets going in three years we have to expand the Skeldon cultivation by 41,000 acres, it is impossible. we don't have the field equipment to do it, we don't have the manpower to do it and we don't have the supervisory power to do it, every person working in sugar even the labourers know that; to get what amounts to the acreage of Albion/Pourt Morant and Rose Hall combined you cant' rush out and do it in three years not with the shoe string budget that Jagdeo is telling us that he has for it.  If you took this money and spent it on Hydro Power today, in 10 years when you pay off the capitalisation for the transmission lines, this Country would have the cheapest electrical power in the Caribbean by far, and we could compete with Trinidad for building industries and creating wealth for our private sector, not this nonsense of maybe this and maybe that going on at Skeldon!