Amendment to the Sugar Act in the House of Representatives

All’s well that ends well, says the Government of Belize, after seeing the near collapse of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, and seeing the impasse in the sugar industry through.

On Monday the parliamentarians met at the House of Representatives in Belmopan to discuss and pass forthwith the long overdue amendment to the sugar act. The bill secures to all cane farmers the freedom to belong to any association.

As we have reported, since the splintering of the BSCFA, two other independent associations have come forth: the Progressive Sugar Producers Association or PSPA and  the Corozal Sugar Producers Association or CSPA- who had representation at Monday’s house sitting.

The amendment bill was introduced by the Area Representative for Orange Walk North and Minister of Agriculture Hon. Gaspar Vega, after which it was put on the table for it to be debated with some good old finger pointing.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h18m29s196Hon. Gaspar Vega – Orange Walk North

“Over the years, Mr Speaker, the belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association failed to resolve their many internal problems, laid by those within their ranks, who for selfish reasons, political reasons, misdirected the cane farmers not to sign the commercial agreement with BSI, even after their negotiation parties and leadership had already approved it.  This, Mr Speaker, was the proverbial ‘last straw.’ 

It was that decision, Mr Speaker, not to sign the commercial agreement that has brought us to this Honourable House today, to amend the Sugar Industry Act, to ensure conformity with the Consent Order issued by the Supreme Court of Belize.

Mr Speaker, for obvious reasons this is not a decision that this administration has taken lightly. Even during this current crisis, as the Prime Minister outlined at his January eighth press conference, he would only move to amend the act if there were clear signs of other groups or associations forming.

vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h19m19s158Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the People’s United Party

“It is this UDP Prime Minister and his Government, Mr Speaker, that has turned their backs on our cane farmers, and are actively working to divide and tear apart the BSCFA.  It is they, Mr Speaker, who talk about politics.  It is they who brought politics into this very serious national issue.”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h21m42s72Hon. Johnny Briceno – Orange Walk Central

“We have great difficulty in having a meaningful debate on a  bill that has just been presented to us this morning.  This is so important, Mr Speaker, that I believe that we should have been given more time, so that we as  a party, we as parliamentarians, can discuss this and also meet with the stakeholders, so they could also advise us on how the changes [will] affect them, be they positively or negatively.

For instance, Mr Speaker, I was just quickly going through this and, for instance, on page three when you look at section 5.2, when they’re saying that ‘one representative of each association, provided that there is more than three associations at any time,’ that they’re going to nominate three persons, and that if  they can’t have an agreement, then the Minister is going to appoint these people to represent these associations on the Board.  My concern is, what if, as the leader pointed out earlier, already two of these associations seem to be politically motivated, that they could easily say, ‘We’re not going to accept whatever recommendations the associations are doing,’ just so that the Minister can then appoint UDP representatives from the Association on the Board.

We have about fifty thousand Belizeans, or 14% of our entire population that depend solely and directly on the sugar industry, Mr Speaker.  That bis why we cannot play politics with this industry.”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h23m07s166Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I’ve already pointed to the fact that one of the lawyers, representing the group that tried so hard to derail the agreement, is a candidate of the People’s United Party, and the People’s United Party’s legal representative.  Let me now point to the fact that in talking, as the Leader of the Opposition or somebody else did, about the Chairman of the Committee of Management, Ezequiel Cansino, and his supposed collaboration with the United Democratic Party, let me point to the fact that Cansino has never run for any political office.  It is Ortega who offered himself, in a PUP convention, to try to become the candidate to go against the Deputy Prime Minister in General Elections.

Who is playing politics with the BSCFA?  And the person against whom he stood, in that convention, Is Monte Cervanyes, A member of the Negotiating Team of the BSCFA, and whio is now, in fact, the duly elected Standard Bearer of the People’s United Party in the Orange Walk North Constituency.  Who then was playing politics with the BSCFA?”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h23m34s157Hon. Said Musa – Fort George

“The composition of that Sugar Industry Control Board, when you analyze it, the existing composition, before they passed this law today, I will be no part of that, is that with the Government and the Cane farmers Asociation representatives, they control the Sugar Industry Control Board.

So, Mr _Prime Minister, if you had wanted to, you could have had this crop open a ling time ago.”
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vlcsnap-2015-01-20-06h24m33s235Hon. Said Musa was the last member of the opposition to speak on the amendment to the Sugar Act. The ending of his presentation signaled the oppositions’ exit.  When the voting was cast for the passing of the bill only one side of the gallery was present.

The bill now moves to the Senate for its third and final reading before it becomes law.

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