By Shemuel FanfairThe National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICL) has officially taken over the divested sugar estates – namely Skeldon, East Demerara and Wales.NICL’s takeover was made official by a publication contained in an extra-ordinary issue of the Official Gazette dated December 30, 2017.The deal was guided under the Public Corporations Act, Chapter 19:05, by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who made the order on December 29, the very day that many sugar workers were expected to lose their jobs. The takeover does not include any assets, lands or property for the Berbice estates of Albion and Blairmont and the Uitvlugt Estate on the West Coast of Demerara, as those entities will remain under GuySuCo for the foreseeable future.According to the Finance Minister’s order, the property was transferred to, and vested in, NICL “absolutely free and clear from all claims and liabilities.”The order gives NICIL authority over “all the moveable and immovable property owned, used, leased or licensed by GuySuCo or the State, save and except for Albion Estate, Blairmont Estate, and Utivlugt Estate”.Included in the takeover are all properties owned by, or leased to, the Skeldon, Rose Hall, Wales and Enmore estates, and other properties in the Demerara and Berbice counties.This transfer means that NICIL has authority over four thousand, seven hundred (4700) acres of State lands, some of which were surveyed since the 19th century. Additionally, all machinery, plant and equipment, motor and agricultural vehicles, and other items owned by GuySuCo or the divested estates now fall under NICL. It was also revealed that all shares issued by GuySuCo and being owned or held by the sugar corporation now belong to the state company.This official move did not come unexpectedly, as the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) was established under NICIL in 2017 to oversee the divestment of the sugar corporation’s assets. The SPU has since selected London-based PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to value the assets of the heavily indebted and cash-strapped corporation. Guyana Times understands that when the SPU was established, it had requested interested parties to submit Expressions of Interest (EoIs) to Government for the potential purchase of one of the sugar estates.One such company expressing interest has been Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), which had publically voiced its concerns over the threat to its supply of molasses – a key ingredient in making its world class rum.“At the moment, we are looking at all options. Until the SPU comes back to those who have expressed interest and say, ‘These are the soft structures that we’re looking at’, and that kind of thing, then we would be unable to make a formal proposal for one or a combination of the options available,” Public Relations Representative for DDL, Alex Graham, told Guyana Times on Wednesday last.DDL has observed that its distillery production for 2017 increased by some 30 per cent over 2016, surpassing projections last year. The company has also noted that production for 2018 is projected to increase by a further 25 per cent over 2017. It was against this backdrop that the company stated its concerns over the impact that the downsizing of the sugar industry would have on it meeting its projections for this year.DDL has also pointed out that, based on production demand for local and international customers, its molasses requirement for 2018 is 70,000 tons. In contrast, GuySuCo has set a sugar production target of 115,000 tons at the three estates currently earmarked to remain in operation, and molasses production has been pegged at 52,000 tons.“In light of this shortfall, DDL has been actively exploring its potential role in the future of the sugarcane industry, and has executed a high-level technical and economic feasibility study on innovative approaches to use the existing sugar assets to meet the current and future needs for molasses for an expanding distilling industry,” the company has stated.Meanwhile, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, has observed that the interest shown by DLL to potentially purchase a sugar estate proves, in his view, that the industry is still viable and is worth keeping alive. Whether or not there are economic benefits or drawbacks from the divestment plans, the recently retrenched employees from the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates have reiterated their displeasure at the estates’ closures, with some accusing Government of taking an easy route out in response to the many challenges that face the industry.