The incurable malady of our sugar mills

  • 12th July 2019
  • 2019
  • // Display comment count + link

FSC should stop playing games with glowing reports of multi-million dollar mill refurbishments and high crush figures when none of its three mills is performing to industry standards.

Despite the highly upbeat reports by FSC’s chief executive Graham Clark, it is clear that the cane harvesting and crushing season in the West is facing serious problems.   

Unreasonable weight limits imposed on cane lorries is creating major hiccups for drivers who are facing fines ranging from $1000 to $4000 for breach of the new restrictions.

Some 500 lorry drivers staged a protest outside the Lautoka Mill today in a bid to have the issue resolved. In a ‘stakeholders’ meeting this morning the authorities agreed to raise the weight limit on 6-wheeler lorries from 16.5 tonnes to 17 tonnes.

This is hardly a concession and lorry drivers may not agree considering the heavy fines imposed on them for breaking the weight limit.

The Rarawai Mill, according to Clark, had just undergone a $9.3m refurbishment to its boiler. And he gave a glowing statement at the opening of crush at the mill three days ago, about the changes such capital works will bring in.

He stated that “investment in new and improved equipment is starting to show results” and brushed off criticism about mill performance as non issues.

But to his great embarrassment, the mill failed to start for the tip-in ceremony. Finally, he had to fake a tip-in for the guests who had been patiently waiting for 40 minutes for the mill to begin rolling.

The Rarawai mill has still not begun crushing which is why all the cane from Ba, Tavua and Ra are being sent to Lautoka.

The Lautoka Mill also underwent major capital works including work done on its Diffuser and the automation of the sugar crushing process. Yet a week after it began crushing, the mill ran into mechanical problems causing substantial losses to farmers and the industry as a whole. .

“What is happening, Mr Clark? Were trial runs done at the two mills prior to the start of crush to iron out all the problems? With so many millions spent on “refurbishment” as you proudly claimed, why are we still facing problems with the boiler in Ba and the Diffuser at Lautoka?

You stated at the opening of the Lautoka Mill, barely a month ago: “An efficient sugar mill maximizes sugar production, reduces wastage and lowers manufacturing costs.”

We agree, so how do you explain the problems at the mills now? The Rarawai Mill has yet to start operating despite $9.3m spent on the boiler.

We need results on the ground, not just meaningless talk.

Speaking at the last session of Parliament, Sugar Minister/PM spoke strongly about investigating some $150m loss incurred after work done by technicians from India at the mills.

We say to the PM: It might be more fruitful for you to investigate what is happening at the mills despite millions of dollars of so-called “refurbishment” works being done by the current FSC management.

Something is seriously wrong- the rhetoric from FSC is not matching results on the ground.