TIME TO GO
Shut down the Arawak Cement Company Limited at Checker Hall in St. Lucy and import the commodity in bulk. Stating that this suggestion was “stuck in my craw” for a long time, construction magnate Sir Charles Williams told Barbados TODAY this morning, that the plant had served its purpose and now it was time for it to go.
The Arawak Cement Plant was built at a cost of $200 million and incorporated in 1981 and wholly acquired by Trinidad Cement Limited in 1984.
However, Sir Charles is arguing that this country could now get cement 40 per cent cheaper if it set up about three silos at the Bridgetown Port, where the water was deepened for tourism purposes, and import the bulk cement. “We in Barbados are subsidising a cement plant that is costing us dearly. It is wrong that you can buy Barbados cement in St. Lucia cheaper. On top of that, the cement plant is jacking up the prices every quarter,” said the construction mogul.
Sir Charles was of the view that if the cement plant was closed, the job losses would not be that substantial, compared to the fact that three to four times as many would be employed if the St. Lucy operations were moved elsewhere.
“That piece of land will employ four times as many people in a tourist development. If you shut down the plant, unemployment would not be that substantial. It is costing the building industry phenomenally high costs. There is a thing called vision. If the plant is co-joined to the 80 acres of the old naval base land, I see tourist development in that place,” pointed out Sir Charles.
He admitted that Ready Mix and Ready Block, the two companies in which his company has major ownership, were the biggest purchasers of cement from Arawak.
“We have no choice. We have to put up our prices … I don’t know how many times a year now,” the founder and owner of C.O. Williams Construction Company told this newspaper.
“For the past five years, this country had no need for it (cement plant),” he said.
Sir Charles also said it was his understanding that Jamaica, where plant also owned by TCL is located, is also now importing cement.
Meanwhile, it’s been reported that TCL was “under bank administration” in Trinidad, but President of the Bankers Association in Trinidad, Dennis Evans, admitted that while it was true that TCL was unable to pay its creditors in the timeframe promised, the company had asked to restructure the debt.
Two years ago, the company said it had not defaulted on any loan, explaining instead that it had sought a moratorium on repayments so that the restructuring could occur, and that it was not in default. The company also denied that some of its creditors were unwilling to take more paper from the company.
Officials acknowledged that any restructuring would eventually cost TCL more and increase its overall debt position but said this was in the best interest of the company.
In the firm’s 2012 annual report, Group Chairman, Andy J. Bhajan announced that the rebuilding process was quite advanced and major maintenance programmes were completed during the latter half of 2012, with certain planned stops carded for the first half of 2013.
“The group’s concerted action plan for a return to profitability in 2013 has already begun to produce results, with a reported net profit after tax of $14.2 million for the first quarter of 2013,” Bhajan added. emmanueljoseph@ barbadostoday.bb