…residents blast Govt for failure to operationalise …“not in the business of making plantain chips” – Minister GaskinBy Lakhram BhagiratThe residents on the Island of Leguan in the Essequibo River are concerned about the future of the multimillion-dollar plantain chip factory, which is yet to become operational some two years after it was completed.The project was started in 2015. However, since its completion in 2016 and several commitments towards operationalising the facility, the residents on the island of Leguan are yet to benefit.The factory, which has the capacity to employ over 30 persons, is yet to be opened and residents are growing concerned as they expressed disappointment at Government’s apparent disinterest in the facility. During a recent visit to the island by Guyana Times, residents said the Business Ministry needs to provide answers about the facility.Resident, Hans Buer, told this publication that they have received word that Government is considering selling the factory. He added that efforts to confirm whether this is the case proved futile since the Business Ministry does not respond to correspondences regarding the factory.“The factory was never opened and they said yes they would open the factory last year. They will open it this year and the Ministry don’t answer my messages via email or Facebook. I know nothing,” he said.“I hear they are going to sell out the building. If opened, that it can employ 20-30 people and it is good for the people, but we hear nothing. They have security guards but the factory is empty as it is,” Buer added.Presently, while the building is completed, this publication observed that electricity is yet to be connected and residents indicated the building has no equipment for the functioning of the factory. However, the regional administration is paying two persons to guard the unoccupied, empty building.According to Government, the size of the property is 8625 square feet and includes machines such as slicing processors, blanching, dewatering, frying, de-oiling, seasoning and packaging equipment.In 2016, the Business Ministry in a local newspaper advertisement invited interested investors to submit Expressions of Interest along with their business proposal for undertaking the factory. In addition, in May 2017, Permanent Secretary of the Business Ministry, Rajdai Jagernauth, told the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that the factory would be operational by the end of June but that never came to fruition.Plantain chips businessOpposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has repeatedly accused the Government of running a “plantain chip economy”, positing that there is no vision for proper economic development. In response to those allegations, last year President David Granger said that if it has to start with plantain chips then so be it adding that small things could end up big.“I know somebody who started off producing fruit juices at Timehri and today those fruits juices are being bottled or boxed…it may start with plantain chips… small things could end up big,” Granger was quoted as saying.However, when Guyana Times contacted Business Minister Dominic Gaskin, he related that the Ministry is not in the business of making plantain chips. Gaskin said they had previously advertised for persons or businesses who were interested in running the factory to indicate such, noting that they received one response.“We got someone who was interested and there was some issues relating to the suitability of the equipment and the electricity supply and a number of things and then we finally got it resolved they said they were no longer interested. So we have to start all over again looking for someone to take it up and that is the situation as it stands,” he said.When asked about whether the process has restarted, the Minister explained that there are some additional issues to be ironed out before they can proceed further on the project.“The equipment (for the factory) was ordered since 2014, before our Government came into office. This equipment was ordered, and I don’t know really how the specifications were generated for the equipment, but it was delivered afterwards, and the equipment met the specifications of the contract. However, apparently it looks like it is not the most suitable for what it is required for so we don’t want to advertise it again and run into the same problem. So we have to figure it out what to do with this, right now what is the problem,” Gaskin explained.This project falls under the previous Administration’s Rural Enterprise Development programme, which commenced back in 2014. These projects initially comprised the construction of two call centres – one in Tuschen in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) and one in Enmore in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), and two chip factories, one in Leguan and one in the neighbouring island of Wakenaam. However, the Wakenaam factory was deemed unsuitable for a number of reasons.The main economic activity on the island of Leguan is farming, particularly rice, but since the announcement of the plantain chip factory, a number of farmer converted some of their property to facilitate the anticipated demand for the commodity. Ever since a number of farmers have been left with large plantain fields and not enough market.However, some residents say the increased plantain production is nothing compared to the lack of job opportunities on the island. They said they have accepted the fact that there are only so many jobs that would be available on the roughly 12-square miles island, nothing that is the reason the factory is even more important to them.“We got no jobs for the young people. They go to school here and write CXC and get all them subject but then them got to go to Parika or town (Georgetown) fuh look wuk. What sense that make because them can’t stay here and develop the island. Them got fuh move out. Government got to do something man,” resident Bharrat Narine said.The man then explained that the proposed 30 jobs that the factory was expected to create would have been a step in the right direction towards improving the standard of living on the island, as well as increase its economic standing.For now, the Leguan plantain chip factory sits idle, with no electricity, two security guards, and sheep grazing in the yard on overgrown grass.