Minister Sinckler to review NSF offer
An alternative loan proposal that is designed to save the sugar industry from possible collapse is expected to go before Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler by Monday.
Sinckler told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that analysis of the offer should have been completed by the experts in his Ministry by now and would be submitted to him with recommendations for him to “do what I have to do.”
He said once he has dealt with the matter, it would go to Cabinet for a final decision on whether his ministry should accept a loan offer from the US-based National Standard Finance (NSF) to fund Barbados’ Sugar Industry Restructuring Programme (SIRP) which is slated to begin in January next year.
Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick said in an interview with this newspaper last week that the original financiers had pulled out of the project and he had wanted Government to make a decision on the NSF offer before the deadline expired yesterday.
Today, Sinckler said the NSF offer had not yet reached Cabinet, but it would be presented once he had completed his review and made the appropriate recommendation based on the advice of his staff.
“I can’t say . I am waiting on the advice of the experts and the officers in the ministries to see what their conclusions are,” he said.
He said the Ministry has to properly and appropriately scrutinize the options available to Government as well as “what people present to you as proposals”.
“And that’s what we are doing, and therefore we have to carry out that exercise with due diligence,” added Sinckler.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart today disclosed that discussion on the sugar industry was the focus of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting which ended around 9 pm.
Speaking to reporters following a Blessing the Nation Service at the St Philip Primary School this morning, he assured that Government was committed to saving the sugar industry, “whatever of it still exists”.
“For some considerable time now, because of local factors, but more so because of international factors, the sugar industry in Barbados has been in decline. I was reminded last night as we discussed the sugar industry that every year the Government has to support the sugar industry to the tune of $72 million. That is not a small sum of money . . . in the context of the other demands being made on the public purse. But we are aware that large numbers of people still are employed in the sugar industry,” he said, adding that his administration was also aware that the country still earned much needed foreign exchange from the industry.
“The Government is therefore committed to ensuring that wherever harm can be avoided, it will be avoided; so to the extent that we spent so much time last evening discussing it, I have already intervened because we intend to ensure that no irreparable harm is done to the industry,” added Stuart with whom sugar farmers had been requesting an urgent meeting.
However, he declined to set a deadline for the proposed multipurpose sugar factory at Andrews to be up and running.
“I don’t want to do that because, quite frankly, we are going through some challenges. We have been going through some challenges for the last six years and we do not know when these challenges are going to effectively come to an end and, therefore, we have to concentrate on wrestling present challenges to the ground before we can be too ambitious about fixing deadlines for that transition from a sugar industry to a sugar cane industry,” he said.