99% of Employees vote for selling B.S.I.
The ownership of the Belize Sugar Industries is about to go to foreign hands. American Sugar Refinery, the world’s largest sugar refining company, is poised to seal a deal to acquire majority shares, in excess of eighty percent, in the financially beset B.S.I. This morning, representatives from ASR met with BSI’s management and employees at Tower Hill where an Extraordinary General Meeting was convened. An estimated ninety-nine percent of all employees voted in favor of the buyout, a critical step because previous proposals to buy over B.S.I. had been met with resistance by the employees. The offer is for an investment of sixty-two million US dollars for forty-four million shares currently held by employees through the Belize Employees Holdings Trust. A.S.R. also proposes the payment of overdue dividends in the amount of five point two million dollars. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The overwhelming support for the inclusion of American Sugar Refining Company, as majority shareholder in the financially embattled Belize Sugar Industries Ltd., was crystallized this morning during an Extraordinary General Meeting held at B.S.I.’s Tower Hill compound. In attendance were employees from all departments within the company, including those who traveled north from Belize City. A.S.R. representative Jonathan Bamberger was the special invited guest.
Jonathan Bamberger, ASR Representative
“The world produces about a hundred and sixty-five million tons of sugar a year and consumption is growing two percent a year, that’s three million tons and we see in Belize the opportunity to participate in that growth, to be a part of it. We see good land for growing cane, a mill here which has good bones, has good potential and good ability to be expanded, has good management and it’s only constraint was the lack of financial resources.”
On September twenty-fourth, 2010, ING Group, the global financial institution through which B.S.I. had received its loan facility, as well as First Caribbean International Bank, served notice that effective March twenty-fourth, 2011 they would no longer be funding the company. In the wake of the cancellation B.S.I. began looking for a prospective lender, to no avail.
Joey Montalvo, C.E.O., BSI Group
“We have been unable or had been unable to secure any other commercial banks to substitute ING so we had then to search for a strategic investor. [Banco] Atlantida came on the scene [and] that is now history. American Sugar Refining subsequently followed. We have been connected to American Sugar Refining in the past, they’ve purchased our sugar and so that is how it all began.”
And with that a series of meetings were triggered with executives of the Belize Employees Holding Trust, the legally recognized body charged with the management of monies, including the disbursal of dividends to beneficiaries, for the relinquishment of its shares in B.S.I. Those shares currently amount to eighty-one point two-nine percent of the company. Approval of the sale; however, required shareholders to vote on the matter.
Ian Leiva, Chairman, Belize Workers Union
“Today we voted on the two resolutions that were passed, one is to increase the share capital of B.S.I. and also to authorize the BEH Board to sell those increased share capitals to A.S.R.”
The sale of controlling shares in B.S.I., says Chief Financial Officer Belizario Carballo, is a complaisant agreement, one which will benefit all parties involved, including the sugar cane farmers.
Belizario Carballo, C.F.O., B.S.I.
“Here in Belize we, for example, know that there is a great potential for improvement in field productivity where we are averaging currently between fifteen to seventeen tons of cane per acre. We should be at twenty-eight tons of cane per acre and that is the scope for the growth that is out there available from the existing cane lands. And that is what as a company, as a new company we’ll be targeted to develop and that will involve working along with farmers. So it’s really a proposal that is not just good for employees and good for B.S.I., but it’s also good for the industry because it’s good for cane farmers as well because it’s a proposal that includes, not just settling the debt of B.S.I. and giving B.S.I. a new beginning, a fresh beginning.”
That revitalization, according to Montalvo, should commence sometime after the June thirtieth deadline when the deal is set to be completed. Part of the agreement is that dividends for the years 2006, 2007 and 2009 will be paid out to beneficiaries in installments based on a reducing balance. That total is currently at $5.2 million.
“This morning Mr. Bamberger announced that instead of taking three years to pay the full dividends owing to the workers, he has brought it up to a year and a half, eighteen months. Two weeks after they sign we will get the fifty percent, nine months later you will get the thirty and nine months after that you will get the twenty percent. So it will take approximately a year and a half and also a hundred percent for all retirees, hundred percent fully paid dividends two weeks after they sign.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
B.S.I. produces about a hundred thousand tons of sugar per year.