Evidence obtained by the National Federation Party confirms beyond any doubt whatsoever that the Fiji Sugar Corporation’s Penang Mill is riddled with major problems and inefficiencies caused my management and operational bungling.
This has deteriorated to such an extent that sugar juice is being discharged into the river running next to the mill resulting in the death of fish, crabs and other seafood. The extent of discharge has blackened the river.
Since the mill started operating four weeks ago it has consistently encountered major problems. These have been documented as photographic evidence, which we are providing.
1. Dump Line Leakage into the River
The pipe that carries cane juice has a major leakage and needs to be urgently repaired, however a tube is being temporarily fixed, which still enables minor leakages and thus the juice being wasted and discharged into the river. This can be repaired, however the mill has to shut down as for now. However this could have been fixed during the cleaning intermissions, but there had been no commitment or response from the management. This is a clear indication of the poor management.
2. Evaporator Pollution Pump
We have been reliably informed that the repair of this pump was submitted last year for the capital project grants however it was not awarded by the Head Office. These pumps have not been functioning as required and as a result, sugar syrup that was to be recycled and reprocessed after going through the pump, has been discharged directly into the pollution ponds thus causing wastage and also complication in the processes of the ponds. This is the major reason for the foul smell being emitted from the river.
3. Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar
All the sugar crystals that are spilt over during the processing are being collected and brought in for reprocessing however this is meant to be stored properly but instead it is deposited on the ground in an unorganized manner. This is unhygienic. We have been told that during the visit of the Executive Chairman on Monday (27th of July, 2015), the soil was spread and thrown over the sugar to avoid it being seen by him and the head office team.
4. Sugar being discharged from a Tank Prior to its crystallization
The Supervisors on site, despite having the knowledge that the pollution pump was not working, authorized the emptying of the tank, which contained sugar. They deliberately ignored the fact that due to this serious problem, all the sugar would be discharged directly into the pollution pond hence the sugar was wasted.
The problems have resulted in milling inefficiencies, resulting in huge losses for the past four weeks. We have established since the start of crushing, the mill has crushed for only 357 hours, which is equivalent to 14.8 days out of a maximum of 28 days. The milling stoppages, caused by mechanical problems have been over 244 hours or equivalent to 10.2 days over this period. This stoppage is already 23 hours more than 221 hours originally forecast for the entire season.
As of Monday 27th July, the mill crushed a total of 35,863 tonnes of cane producing 3,461 tonnes of sugar. The tonnes of cane required to produce one tonne of sugar (TCTS) is 10.36. This is high compared to the forecasted TCTS of 9.2 for the mill. This will undoubtedly increase as the season extents beyond August.
Penang Mill’s total crush forecast is 195,000 tonnes with the mill expected to operate for 13 weeks until 20th October. At the current rate, the mill will have to operate for another two weeks to complete crushing.
Right to Information
Cane growers have a right to information. Since the military coup, the FSC has refused to release weekly crush reports of each of its four mills. This information was useful in analysing the performance of the mills and Government, through the parliamentary select committee on sugar could demand answers from the management of FSC for any failures at each of the mills.
However, FSC no longer releases the weekly crush reports and there is no parliamentary select committee to scrutinise the performance of FSC.
This Government preaches about transparency and accountability, but it does not practice it as far as the performance of our mills and FSC is concerned. Instead it is indulging in a needless exercise through the industry stakeholders, who have lost their independence and impartiality, to review the Master Award under the pretext of a consultation process.
Cane growers are suffering losses due to milling inefficiencies. In the case of Penang Mill Area, growers are forced to pay and feed cane cutters to retain them because they do not regularly harvest cane due to mill breakdowns. Cane Lorry operators and drivers are also suffering having to endure extremely long delays before being able to dump cane laden on their trucks. In the case of Penang Mill, 80% of cane carted to the mill is by lorry transport. The mill workers are also suffering in silence and forced to implement band-aid solutions that are cosmetic and only camouflage the rot at the mill.
This Government and FSC owe it to the nation to provide honest answers. Otherwise they will be seen as paying lip service to an industry that benefits 200,000 of our citizens.
Prof Biman Prasad