Today, the Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and its partner in the Tower Hill factory American Sugar Refining (ASR) met the press in Belize City to give their side of the ongoing dispute over a payment for bagasse. The sugar producer has and continues to insist that the farmers do not have a case for either ownership or payment because when their cane is sold to BSI it becomes BSI’s property. In the case of the bagasse, BSI has assumed sole responsibility for its disposal, at a cost of $20 million over 30 years and counting. In the last four years BSI has found what it believes is an efficient means of getting value out of the waste material – usage to make electricity for Belize Electricity Limited (BEL). But while that electricity powers homes countrywide, BSI insists the farmers have no right to be paid for something they did not monetarily invest in. Chairman of the Board of BSI Mr. Arsenio Burgos read out BSI’s official position.
Mr. Arsenio Burgos- Chairman of BSI’s Board
“BSI’s position is that the revenue from electricity sale cannot be decribed as a sale of a bi-product and at the source of the revenue is really a productive way of what BSI has been doing all the years on its own disposal of the bagasse, including the burning of the bagasse to produce electricity for the mill. In addition, because that does not require for a payment for a bi-product, but only says that it will be subject to future discussion”.
BSI had attempted to have such a discussion last Tuesday, November 19, but the representatives of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA), which claims to have the mandate of its membership, refused to attend and left BSI and ASR representatives hanging. After receiving a call from Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture Gaspar Vega yesterday to try again for a meeting this afternoon, ASR reps agreed but once again the farmers have not responded. In the view of the company, there is a serious dispute and one place to settle it: the courts.
Mr. Arsenio Burgos: “BSI has repeatedly stated to the BSCFA that since there is a fundamental disagreement between the parties, then, the proper place to determine the dispute is in the courts. If the BSCFA believes in its claim, then it can file that claim with the Supreme Court of Belize. The court can then rule. There is simply no need for threats or intimidation, and there is certainly no justification to delay the beginning of cane delivery season. Such losses will cause great loss to all stakeholders, including the farmers. Having the matter decided by the court would not cause any loss, since the court would make its judgement and decide if compensation is to be paid”.
So while BSI appears not to be backing down, it is promising more benefits to the farmers through increased productivity and attention to needed technical development and even infrastructure development. ASR representative Ricardo Lima sums up that aspect.
Mr. Ricardo Lima- Delegate of the American Sugar Refinery
“What we are proposing if they let us, if they want to sit and they want to talk, we would like us to establish as soon as possible a program to assistant fixing those roads and drainage and we want to be part of that. Not only we want to set many meetings with the BSCFA leaderships but all chairmen- of all 18 divisions. We would like to share with them our knowledge of industry, our resources which are vast, to teach them how to fish, not to give them fish…and they understand that. We want to work with them. Again, as I say, we bend backwards to be able to sit down and go through any constructive way. But again, the have to be able to conclude anyway”.
And BSI Chief Financial Officer Mr. Belizario Carballo Jr. makes a strong case for the status quo.
Mr. Belizario Carballo- Chief Financial Officer of the BSI
“There is a lot to begin by collectively working together to grow the pie trying to get something , perhaps a bigger share of the pie. Doing the things and cooperating with us to do the things that we feel are necessary for the sugar industry of Belize to become competitive all round, both on the mill side and on the field side. It’s really actions that are geared towards growing the size of the pie so that the farmers 65% will grow and at the same time our 35% will grow. That is where we have our focus; not just slicing up the pie in different ways but we can see if we can collectively work with farmers and ourselves and government; all the stakeholders in the industry to ensure that the ingredients are here. We just need to work together towards in achieving the objective to grow in that pie to where it needs to be”.