The, Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) are closer to signing the Commercial Agreement and opening the crop season for 2014-2015 than they have ever been. In fact, it was scheduled to be signed Tuesday, but it appears to be held up again, this time by the actions of cane farmer Lucilo Teck of the San Victor Branch of the Association, and former negotiator and chair of the BSCFA’s Finance Committee, Javier Keme.
Joined by five directors of the Association and what they claim is a large group of disaffected cane farmers, they have filed suit in the Supreme Court for an interim injunction to restrain any member of the Association’s Committee of Management from signing the Agreement, despite BSI’s apparent giving in to the Association on a number of disputed points in the Agreement.
Last week the BSCFA had rejected signing the agreement, seeking further clarification of exactly who is in charge of making the inquiries about cane quality. They have received that agreement, but Javier Keme told reporters that it does not change their stance that farmers were cheated out of a fair deal.
“I don’t see where BSI is giving or conceding. I don’t see anywhere. Precisely because of that reason that we and the farmers, that we are representing, think that the Committee of Management will go ahead and sign. They would do so against the law, because they cannot sign an agreement that the General Assembly has not approved.
It has to be done formally, and this is a benefit for them. If you see it as such, it’s a benefit for the Committee of Management to do things right and correct. Give the farmers: One; The benefit of what they’re signing to and Two; do the things according to the procedures that our bylaws and our Sugar Act states.”
Lucilo Teck said that a resolution he passed while still a Director of the Association in 2013 still has effect.
“We are very concerned, because it is our strong view that as the proposals now stand, they have been shifted by the Committee of Management, because the resolution was passed by the General Assembly on July 28th, 2013.
What happens is that right there, the resolutions stated that we call GOB [and] BSI stakeholder to recognize by legislation our right, the rightful owners, that the cane crop belong to us. We invest to produce that product, so it belongs to us. To recognize that whenever there is any bi-product, there should be a fair distribution of payments and it was accepted.
The Committee of Management was then mandated to honor it, to work for it, to show it and the Government recognize it by legislation that we are the true owners of the cane products, and that was not being done.”
According to Lucilo Teck, farmers are still in the dark about the majority of the Agreement ,and the Association has ignored a call for a Special General Meeting where the full agreement would be put on display. Both men argue that this is a benefit to the farmers because they will have one last chance to contribute to the final agreement, but if BSCFA proceeds to sign, says attorney for the pair Audrey Matura-Shepherd, they do so at grave peril.
The attorney says the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) chaired by the Government of Belize has failed in its duties to take charge of negotiations, and so too has the Association, in failing to fully explain to farmers the ins and outs of the Agreement.
“If we had done the application ex parte, we could have heard it today, but we want them to get an opportunity to defend their position. Under this application, we ask for a 3 days’ notice to them by the court, so that they can then come to the court and respond. But also, as Mr. Teck has indicated, there is another application that will well go before the court because legally, the Sugar Industry Board is mandated by law to set the date and they’d relinquish their responsibility. That is where the government should intervene. That is where all those senior officials of the government want to intervene should go and tell them, to do what is lawfully their duty to do.
If you go to the section of the law that deals with that; that is section 6 paragraph E, of the Sugar Industry Act, it tell you clearly that the board, the Sugar Industry Control Board, must set the date. They must consult with both parties and that once they set the date, the factory must accept the product, and unfortunately no one has seen it proper to explain that to the farmers, so that they know that they don’t have to sign an agreement for the crop to start. That there is a legal basis on which the crop can start without reaching an agreement.”
No date has been set for hearing but the BSCFA has three days to respond. Attorney Matura-Shepherd says the matter will be dealt with expeditiously by the courts.