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Action by the Government to privatize six of its sugar estates across the island, formally got underway yesterday (May 16), with the launch of a website to provide prospective investors with the necessary details to participate in the bidding process.
The six estates under consideration are: Monymusk in Clarendon, Frome in Westmoreland, Bernard Lodge in St. Catherine, Duckenfield in St. Thomas and the Long Pond and Hampden estates in Trelawny, inclusive of some 40,000 hectares of sugar lands and related assets of factories, equipment, refineries and distilleries.
Agriculture and Land Minister, Roger Clarke, speaking at the launch at the Hilton Kingston Hotel, emphasized that the opening of the bidding process did not mean the entities would not continue production or renege on meeting production targets.
“We are not closing down in anticipation of the divestment. There are certain things which have to be done and we will have to continue to do them. We have to keep the fields in order and continue with the fertilizer programme, but we are trying to put something in place so that at the end of it all, we have something to divest. Everything will go on during this transition period, bearing in mind that if nobody comes, you will have to continue because we have not decided to close the industry down,” Minister Clarke emphasized.
He further expressed optimism that even with the challenges posed by the anticipated 36 per cent price cut of sugar imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries over the next three years as announced by the European Union last July, “there (were) still opportunities to structure a viable and sustainable sugar industry to which the government is firmly committed, based on product diversification, taking into account the versatility of the sugar cane plant”.
“I believe the Jamaican sugar industry can go forward.I entreat all those who have an interest to grasp the opportunity,” the Minister added.
Mr. Clarke said the web portal would give local entrepreneurs an equal opportunity to participate in the divestment process.
In the meantime, Aubyn Hill, Chair of the Sugar Cane Industry Enterprise Team (SET), which is overseeing the privatization process, said the Government expected that bidders would meet several important criteria, chief among them, formidable financial capabilities, a willingness to invest in the industry, backed by extensive experience in the industry and a reputation to support their bid.
“The best bid will win, but the best bid is not about money,” he pointed out, adding that while the privatization process would be market driven, it would remain transparent.
Mr. Hill said it was expected that the team would receive a shortlist of bidders by June 15, with the entire process being completed by the end of August.
Persons wishing to access the site can do so at www.sugarcanejamaica.com or www.sugarassetsjamaica.com.In October last year, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson outlined the steps to be taken by the Government to resuscitate and transform the declining sugar industry. In November the Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, established the SET to oversee the privatization of assets of the estates.
In addition to Mr. Hill, who is also Chairman of the National Investment Bank of Jamaica (NIBJ), SET also comprises Ambassador Derick Heaven, Chairman of the Sugar Industry Authority; Eleanor Brown of the Caribbean Investment Fund; Dr. Richard Harrison, Director General in the Ministry; Dr. Cezley Sampson of the Office of the Prime Minister, Sharon Weber of the Finance and Planning Ministry, and Ian Parsard of Jamaica Broilers Limited.