July 31, 2003
AFTER 28 years in which it lost billions of dollars, Caroni (1975) Ltd will today wind up its operations marking the end of an era for the state-owned agro-industrial company. The producer will make way for the Sugar Manufacturing Company (SMC) which will be restricted to refining operations at Usine St Madeleine and the Estate Development and Management Company, which will attract and manage industrial activity.
Most of the company's 9,000-odd workers have reportedly accepted Government's voluntary separation offer and are due to begin receiving their separation packages, which total almost $800 million, next week. The quiet end, though, has come after stormy months which saw the unions protesting Government's divestment plan.
More recently, the All Sugar and General Workers Trade Union tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the VSEP offer through the Industrial Court. "I have done my duty. I can live with a very clear conscience," Rudy Indarsingh said recently, explaining that since the union could not stop the VSEP, all he could do was to ensure that the packages the workers will receive will be to their benefit.
"Caroni (1975) Ltd will cease to be a trading company as we know it and a small team of people will be working on certain aspects of the industry," Caroni CEO Chandra Bobart said Tuesday. The effort to close the sugar company is not new. In 2001, a report by a committee appointed by the then government recommended Caroni's closure. The UNC government, though, said closure was only one option.
The current administration has repeatedly said Caroni's restructuring is necessary because it has been a drain on the Treasury. The claims have been backed up by international agencies Standard and Poors and the International Monetary Fund, which cited concerns over the failure of previous governments to deal with the problems faced at Caroni.