PM addresses recent turn of events in the sugar cane industry

On Thursday morning Prime Minister Dean Barrow gave government’s position on the recent turn of events in the Sugar industry, stating that it is now a crisis. PM Barrow recapped the negotiations recounting that on Dec. 8th both parties had reached an agreement through the intervention of GOB – to have ended the impasse.

Mr Barrow said that his administration has been consistent in standing with the BSCFA whether with the 10 million dollar bail out; the annual duty free fuel and waver of vehicle license fees; millions spent in sugar roads or by way of leaning on ASR and persuading ASR to pay the farmers for bagasse. This agreement, which was widely supported by the directors and members, was rejected by the BSCFA, when ASR insisted on a clause that would give them the right to judge cane quality.

.

vlcsnap-2015-01-09-05h13m34s178Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I pull no punches in saying that the unravelling that then took place was entirely the fault of ASR/BSI.  They insisted on a clause giving them the right to judge cane quality, when that function had been agreed as being the province of the SCPC, ever since the time of the industry MOU, forged again by this administration, and which was entered into, I think, in 2010. 

Not surprisingly, and in fact quite justifiably, the BSCFA rejected this ASR move, and made clear that they would not sign the agreement unless that offending clause, and in fact one other, was taken out.  In that regard, I and the Deputy on the ground in the North, but I certainly spent much time over Christmas in an e-mail and telephone back and forth, with BSI Principals who are abroad, making clear that they needed to concede on the two issues.  Eventually they did so, but by then, matters had become terribly  roiled by the intervention of, among others the NTUCB and the legal, rhetorical, and organizational support that body and others gave to the anti-agreement radicals. So that the radical’s insistence that the matter go back to the general assembly, notwithstanding the BSI concessions, carried and, most unfortunately in my view, the general assembly this time on Sunday last rejected the agreement.”

.

PM Barrow went on to say that sugar exports, according to Central Bank, were $107.5 million in 2012, and $107.3 million in 2013, and this latest rejection by the general assembly, further delaying the crop season, puts the economy of the North at risk. Mr Barrow explained that ASR’s position is  crystal clear; that they will not open their factory doors and start a crop, unless the agreement that they had reached is signed either by the committee of management of the BSCFA, or by a sufficient number of branches and individual farmers of the BSCFA; guaranteeing a delivery of a minimum of 500,000 tons of sugar cane.

PM Barrow rejects any idea that government can force ASR/ BSI to open its factories and if government was to do so, it would probably result in ASR leaving the country.

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 

“I repeat, that after the most careful examination of the Sugar Industry Act and the legal and factual circumstances, it is Government’s unalterable conclusion that it is impossible to compel BSI to accept cane deliveries and mill and market cane against its will.  Any such attempt would not just be illegal but would, as was made clear to me, cause the manufacturer t9 immediately shutter their factory permanently and leave Belize.

Those individuals that campaigned against the agreement, and that continue to assert against all reason that we can force BSI, are thus grossly misleading the farmers.  They have imperilled the industry and exposed  to hardship  the very farmers they say they are trying to help. 

Now they have gone to court.  In speaking about that though, they neglect to tell the public that there is already in existence a Supreme Court order, declaring certain portions of the Sugar Industry Act unconstitutional, and directing Government to amend the law to bring it into conformity with the Constitution. How the lawyers representing the radicals will move the court for an order under an Act that is unconstitutional defeats me.”

.

Prime Minister Barrow went on to elaborate, saying that if SICB took the action of fixing the period for the annual crop, such a move would be unconstitutional because it would only recognize the BSCFA as the sole representative of the farmer,  the sole organization apart from the miller.

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 

The amendments mandated by the Court include the removal of the BSCFA. as sole grower representative, and substituting therefore any and all organizations such as the United Cane Farmers Association, which brought the challenge to the Act in the first place, and the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers’ Association.

In these circumstances it seems to me to be foolishness on top of foolishness, nonsense placed upon stilts, for these people to argue that they will get the court to aid their illegal bid to pressure the SICB.

The question might fairly be asked, can an entity, declared unconstitutional under the Act, even have standing to move the Court?  We will soon find out. 

I see now that the People’s United Party is openly showing its hand.  Its legal advisor has joined the team representing the radicals, and its Northern Caucus issued a statement yesterday.  Well there is only one thing I have to say to them, the reason Government did not move to comply with the Court Order to amend the law, the reason we have delayed all this time since 2010, is because we wished to preserve the integrity and position of the BSCFA.  We violated a Court Order in order to protect the BSCFA.

They talk about George Price’s vision for the industry, but they are the ones now pushing what inevitably will lead to the breakup of the BSCFA.”

.

The BSCFA’s existence may very well be in question, according to PM Barrow. He explained that for some time now divisions in the BSCFA have been evident, and the current issue of the agreement and the crop has only made matters worse. That is because, according to the Prime Minister, the Corozal division has met to discuss splitting completely and registered as a separate association, while other branches have likewise expressed this same notion.

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 

“The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Hugo Pat have been separately approached in this  regard, and are here today to attest to it.  Indeed, after I had prepared these remarks and when I came in, the Deputy handed me a letter, addressed to me, and signed by the past chairman of the Committee of Management and present leader of group A of the San Estevan Branch, which is responsible, he says, for the delivery of over seventy thousand tons of sugar cane.  I believe they’re the largest single individual branch. 

He says, ‘I’m requesting your support in the Amendment of the Sugar Cane Act, to allow an open system of  cane delivery, whereby other associations, groups, and individuals, can deliver sugar cane to the mill.

Presently the BSCFA is the only recognised bargaining body which can negotiate the delivery of sugar cane.  However, a good number of Directors and cane farmers are of the opinion that the BSCFA, which as you may know has lost its credibility with FairTrade, is comprised of a small group of individuals who are manipulating the situation for their own benefit.’ 

‘I’, he says, ‘have met with a group of directors from other branches, and together we have summed up  over five hundred thousand tons of sugar cane that can be delivered right away, so as to get this industry back on its feet.

The reason we are requesting your support in the Amendment of the Sugar Cane Act is to avoid any problems that may arise with the present association, BSCFA, such as injunctions and so forth.  We look forward to your full support in moving forward with the Sugar Cane Industry,’ “

.

FairTrade sent a letter to the BSCFA, in effect stating that the organization would be cut off once it carries out disbursement of the 4 million dollars that the  farmers want divided among themselves. That disbursement would leave the BSCFA broke and unable to maintain its office or carry out its projects.

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 

“This point that he makes about the FairTrade threat to cut off the BSCFA completely will, in my view, once it’s carried out, together with the dissipation of the four million dollars voted by the general assembly, in any event lead the BSCFA broke and unable to pay its bills and maintain its office. That is what Ortega, Matura, Cervantes, Keme, Lucilo Teck and the PUP have wrought.

Let me state for the record what Government’s position is  in relation to all this.  Those farmers and branches that are talking about getting together to sign the agreement with BSI outside of the BSCFA have a constitutional right to do so.  That is both self-evident and clear as a matter of the 2010 Supreme Court Order, and Government, if those farmers choose to exercise their undoubted right, will do whatever is necessary to vindicate that right. That is the law of the land, and Government’s  Constitutional duty.

There has been talk of Government calling an emergency House Meeting on Monday to pass the Amendments to the Sugar Act mandated by bthat 2010 Supreme Court Order.  That will not happen.  It will not happen for two reasons. If we have waited this long we can afford to wait a little while longer.  Also, those that are determined to sign the agreement and start the crop do not need legislative changes to be able to do so.”

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow explained, in the question and answer segment, that his government does not wish to see the BSCFA break up,  but that it seems imminent.

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 

“It is a matter of the government making absolutely clear that this breakup of the BSCFA, which now appears to be imminent is not a consummation that the Government wished, is not a consummation that even now the Government wants to encourage.  But it is also a position stated to make clear that, since it appears that this will inevitably happen, Government will at the point when it does materialize, if it materializes, perhaps the radicals will get some sense into their heads now and try to make up with those who are looking to break away and come together, but if it does materialize, when it materializes Government will effect the necessary legal changes to enshrine into law what would have occurred as a matter of fact.

.

GOB will wait and see if the members proposing to establish a new association will have the numbers to produce the required minimum 5000,000 tons. But is ASR simply calling a bluff? The Prime Minister responded to that query.

.

vlcsnap-2015-01-09-08h01m04s93Louis Wade – Plus News

“There is an international market.  There is a demand for sugar, a specific quota that is required from Belize.  The question is whether or not BSI is merely playing the bluff, because the tonnage that it is requesting, minimum tonnage , to open its factory and have and have these large farmers bring in sugar, is not even close to sufficient to supply its international requirements. It’s playing the bluff.”

.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow 7

“That doesn’t seem to be a question.  That seems to be an observation, and you’re welcome to your observation.”

.

The fact is that BSI has its own FairTrade agreement that it has to live up to, as its quota is 1.5 million tons, according to fair trade regulations.
.

Part one


.

Part two

About the Author