As reported the amendment bill was rammed through the House of Representatives on Monday, while the opposition cried that not enough time was given for proper consultation.
On Tuesday the bill was passed in the Senate in like fashion, where during the debate of the bill, Senators raised some similar points that we have noticed. First, Senator Lisa Shoman spoke about the structure of the Sugar Industry Control Board, which seems to be skewed in favour of Government Ministers.
“I don’t know why semantic games are played. I really wish we had just come out and called this thing ‘The Sugar Minister Control Board,’ because that’s what it really will end up being.
This thing already had a balance that was too skewed in favour of Ministers and Ministers’ power, and this is, Mr President, in complete contravention of what is the modern reality, which is decentralization of Government power on private industry.
On the one hand this Government trumpets that it’s for private industry, private investment, partnership with the private sector, letting people run their own business, and on the second hand it seeks to control it by giving more Ministerial power.”
“First of all it was two for the millers, two for the association. It’s gone up to three for the millers and three for the association. So that is first of all wrong. It still keeps the balance and the equity.
In addition to that, we have to understand that Government has a responsibility to govern. When you get dischord or you can’t get agreement, Government steps in, but Government steps in as an equitable partner in the growth process. That is what Governments do.
I’ll give you a good example of that in the Constitution. It says that the Chamber and the Church and the Unions shall all nominate their Representatives for the Senate. If they fail to do so, the Governor General shall appoint. I mean, that’s the standard in many laws.
So what it is saying is that if you have more than three associations, and they can’t come up with proper names, then Government shall intervene. So it doesn’t give Government ultimate power. It certainly doesn’t.
In any case, if you are looking at equity the millers and the farmers’ associations would agree, then the Government is outnumbered. And if the farmers and the Government agree, [then] the millers are outnumbered.”
Senator Anthony Sylvester spoke about the redefining of who a cane farmer is, which he says gives provision for ASR to become its own cane farmer.
“What we find in this amendment bill, Mr President, in particular the amendment to Section 19, Subsection 5, is what I had feared this Government would have done. They have, in a very surreptitious way, in a very clever way, now allow the manufacturers to refuse to accept cane deliveries.
Why do I say that? The existing Section 19, Subsection 5, provides and says, Mr President, that ‘deliveries of sugar cane accepted by manufacturers shall be paid for at the current price for sugar cane, less any assess that may be levied under this Act.’
The proposed amendment now reads, Mr President, that ‘where any manufacturer intends to accept deliveries of sugar cane…’ They’re now giving the manufacturers the right to decide if they want to accept sugar cane deliveries or not. What has been done is an opening, an avenue, for the manufacturers, for they themselves to actually become, once and for all, the cane farmers, and to do away with the small cane farmers.”
Senator Godwin Hulse
“There could never be an intention to box out any cane in Belize, at all. I think the more cane they get, the better.
I am here to tell you that they could have bought the same crop production which is at mile 25, right here, I think it’s about 430 acres, but they don’t have to buy it. [The] same crop was already selling last year, but this year they’re told they can’t sell because they’re not in the Orange Walk or the Corozal District. So that is to me a very mute point. That’s the first thing.
The second thing, which Government in their right mind could stand by and see the industry go to a point where it disenfranchises the small farmer. Politicians are sensible, you know. They need votes!
In the Cabinet, I personally was saying now that we’re amending the Act, if we don’t want to expand it, because there are lots of farmers in the Belize District who have been saying ‘We can’t sell we cane.’ The Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed unanimously, no, no, none at all, not at this time at all, you don’t want to do that, because you want to make sure that the farmers in the North, who are already members of the BSCFA, continue to have the market, and not expand it to a point until ASR/BSI has expended to the point where they can take the additional cane.
They are getting there. I mean, when they first started it was six thousand tons, now they’re roughly at ten, and they have said to us they want to go as high as twenty-five thousand tons a day. By that time they’ll be able to accommodate well into two or three million tone of cane.”
While that amount of cane is still not feasible, the sugar cane plantation at mile 25 on the George Price Highway, owned by a company called Belize River Farm, is left with acres of sugar cane to eat, says Senator Hulse, since the Government, the “honest broker”, as he called it, will always hold the best interest of the small farmers at heart.