GOVERNMENT yesterday signed documents to seal the divestment of the final three sugar estates held by the Sugar Corporation of Jamaica (SCJ) — Monymusk, Bernard Lodge and Frome — to the Chinese company Complant.
"Notwithstanding, in more recent times, a real concerted effort to divest the industry did not succeed, we felt that it was something we needed to pursue," Prime Minister Bruce Golding said yesterday at the Jamaica House signing of the deal between a delegation from Complan and Government representatives.
Government's push two years ago to sell the SCJ estates to the Brazilian company, Infinity Bio-Energy fell flat in the face of the worldwide economic decline.
Last year Long Pond in Trelawny and Duckensfield in St Thomas were sold to separate local bidders as an effort to have Eridana of Italy purchase all five estates also fell through.
In a deal worth more than US$10 million, Complan will now purchase the three remaining sugar estates and lease approximately 30,000 hectares of sugar lands to increase the production of cane islandwide.
Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton made it clear that the signing was two-fold, one for the purchase and lease of assets owned by SCJ, and the other to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a sugar refinery and ethanol facility.
"Complant is no stranger to Jamaica," Golding said yesterday, noting that the Chinese company had constructed the Trelawny Stadium and subsequently built the recently-opened convention centre in Montego Bay.
The prime minister contended that Chinese investors viewed investment projects in a different way from other foreign investors.
"They tend to look beyond the brow of the hill," Golding said of the Chinese. "They tend to look at opportunities that are not staring you in the face...they tend to take that longer view."
The SCJ, which originally owned five factories, have long posed financial problems for Government, loosing approximately $5.2 billion last year, according to Government reports.
Divestment of the SCJ sugar factories, however, proved difficult for successive administrations.
From as far back as 2004, attempts by the previous administration to off-load the burdensome factories had failed to materialise, while they gobbled up taxpayer funds estimated at over $20 billion in six years.
In the meantime, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Donovan Stanberry, yesterday rebuffed concerns about an influx of Chinese labour in Jamaica, saying that cane farmers and workers who had left the industry would now have greater incentive to return.