Mill halt draws ire

Ellington sector II lorry drivers Isoa Gavidi (left) and Iliesa Tovolea wait for their call at Marine Drive in Lautoka yesterday. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

CANE growers in the Western Division are calling on the Fiji Sugar Corporation to stop issuing quotas for the Lautoka mill after it ground to a halt at 3am yesterday, the third stoppage in just over a week.

Farmers and lorry operators said they were concerned about the ongoing issues at the factory, especially after CEO Graham Clark held a special press conference on Sunday and assured the industry that all was well.

Rarawai & Penang Cane Producers Association president Jinend Singh said costs were mounting for farmers because of the mechanical problems at Lautoka.

“We sent lorries to Lautoka yesterday (Tuesday) and they are still in the mill yard right now (1.15pm yesterday) just because the mill is not running well,” he said.

“FSC should stop issuing quotas, fix the mill and then open again.

“This is costing every farmer money because we have to feed and house our cutters while our trucks are stuck in the mill yard.”

Fiji Cane Lorry Association president Jitendra Singh said he was concerned about the welfare of his members.

“I thank FSC for feeding the drivers during these stoppages but they really need to think about drivers from Rakiraki and Tavua,” he said.

“They are spending long hours in the cold and I am worried about their health.”

National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said the mill should be shut down and an immediate independent investigation into the $16 million repair and upgrade works conducted.

He said once the fault was repaired, the mill should crush out all harvested cane and then cease operations immediately ? until the investigation was completed.

“Three breakdowns in eight days since the mill started crushing with much fanfare and praise by a Cabinet minister and the Fiji Sugar Corporation CEO is outrageous and totally unacceptable,” he said.

Prof Prasad claimed “the total lack of democratisation of the Sugar Cane Growers Council which was dissolved in 2009” and appointments of personnel who had little industry knowledge to key positions including boards had resulted in the sector’s demise.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that unlike previous parliaments before the 2006 coup, this Government refused to allow a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar.

“As a result, the growers who are the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry are suffering along with canecutters, lorry drivers, and all their families.”

The FSC issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying a cable fault on the cane carrier/shredder resulted in the temporary stoppage.

“The mill was stopped routinely to replace the cable and crushing resumed at 11am this (yesterday) morning,” the miller said.

“There have been no further issues with the boiler since the feed system was rectified last week and all other equipment is running satisfactorily.”

FSC added that Lautoka had just completed its first week of crushing and had processed about 14,000 tonnes of cane at an average of 2000 tonnes per day.

“Daily cane throughout has increased steadily and 3500 tonnes of cane were crushed on Tuesday. This will increase to target between 4000 to 5000 tonnes of cane per day.”

FSC CEO Mr Clark held a press conference on Sunday afternoon where he reassured the industry that the Lautoka mill issues had been sorted.

He also said farmers affected by stoppages would be surveyed this week.

The Lautoka mill was forced to shutdown last week on Wednesday for eight hours and on Friday for more than 12 hours because of mechanical issues.

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