Supreme Court upholds BAHA decision not to import Guyanese rice

If you were one of the Belizeans dreaming of 69-cent rice on your dinner table, then we can tell you tonight that the dream is over, at least for now.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Young this morning said she would not grant leave to importer Jack Charles to file for judicial review of a decision by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), which had declined to allow him to import the three containers with 75 tonnes vlcsnap-6564-07-13-07h39m45s664of Guyanese rice sitting at the Big Creek Port. Presiding in chambers, Justice Young ruled that Charles had proceeded without obtaining an import permit in violation of the law and that the letter of his subsequent application to the court was not strictly followed. Charles’ attorney, Leeroy Banner, told us afterward that the decision leaves them with few options.

 

Leroy Banner, Attorney, RC Imports: What happened is that the court held that because there was no import permit and that was so important that because the importer did not have that import permit then what he did was unlawful and she would not grant leave to apply for judicial review.  She is pretty much saying that you needed the import permit and without that you cannot import the goods into Belize.

Reporter: Is that Justice Sonya Young?

Leroy Banner, Attorney, RC Imports: That is so.vlcsnap-3755-07-06-06h42m50s089

Reporter: This seems to be a very important loss, if I may put it that way.  Do you intend to take any redress to try to deal with this?  Can you appeal in any way?

Leroy Banner, Attorney, RC Imports: Yes we can appeal but at this time we need to consult with our client and see what direction we’ll go.  But, according to the judge, Section Twenty-seven is so clear that I do not think that there is any merit in appealing this ruling.

Reporter: So is this where the rice fight ends?

Leroy Banner, Attorney, RC Imports: Like I said, I need to get direction from my client because what happened is that an issue has been raised as to the community law, whether or not the matter should be before the CCJ.  So we need to take directions from our client and see where we go from here.

Neither Charles nor his technical advisor Sergio Garcia said anything to reporters, walking briskly past the cameras and down the steps from the Court. Madam Justice Young found that the Court was being asked to intervene to support breaking the law, which it could not and would not do, according to attorney for Circle R Products Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay.

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney, Belize Agro-productive Sector Group: The rice producers who I represent didn’t even have to make any argument to the court.  The court looked at the application that was filed and it was not properly done and so she said that looking atvlcsnap-7319-04-17-05h44m14s174 it, it doesn’t even affect our clients even if she were to give permission.  So we weren’t called upon to make any submissions.  Essentially what the government argued, quite rightly in their submissions was that basically the issue that is before the court is an importer who says, “I need a license, I applied for it and didn’t get it, I don’t care, I’m bringing in my goods notwithstanding the fact that I have not obtained the necessary permit.”  Then come to court and say I don’t have the permit and I want the court to order the importation of a product that requires a license.  In effect asking the court to assist him to break the law.  The court was very clear that the court is not here to assist anyone in breaking the law and therefore a person who does not have the necessary import permit for the importation of rice will not be allowed to use the court as a basis on which to get some sort of relief.

Charles, says Courtenay, has also been ordered by Customs Department to send the rice back or risk it being destroyed. He raised the issue of possible contamination, as the rice was not even tested before being brought to the Jewel.

Reporter: Sir, so would you describe his actions as sort of bullish to just force his way in as best he can?

Leroy Banner, Attorney, RC Imports:Well I would use the language of the C.E.O. in the Ministry of Agriculture in his affidavit that it was done in defiance of the law.  Mr. Charles obviously believes that simply by bringing the product here he would be able to get what he wants, notwithstanding what the law says.  I think the big issue here, insofar as my clients are concerned is the decision that the Customs vlcsnap-4622-04-26-23h46m45s150[& Excise Department] has now taken which is that the product must leave Belize.  They are giving them a chance to have the product leave Belize and if they don’t do that then the product has to be destroyed.  We do not want rice that has not been subject to a test to be brought into Belize.  It constitutes a risk not only to the agricultural sector but also to food security and safety because it would not have been tested.

The letter to Charles by Customs dates back to December 23, and since nothing has been done in the interim, Courtenay says the Department has the power to act right away. Courtenay, on behalf of Belize’s rice producers, dismissed Charles’ pitch for better rice at a cheaper price as a “sob story”, a chance to line his own pockets, and an insult to those working in the rice industry and to consumers. He tells us why.


 Eamon Courtenay, Attorney, Belize Agro-productive Sector Group: How can somebody in good conscience promote the importation of rice to benefit the rice farmers of Guyana, to make a profit for himself and himself alone, one person and say to hell with the domestic producers of rice.  To hell with all the people who are planting, who are milling, who are distributing, all the people who have jobs in the fields, all the people who have jobs in the mills, all the people in the distribution sector, to hell with them.  Listen, one has to be honest when one is attempting to be charitable.  Mr. Charles wants the people of Belize to believe that he loves them so much that he is going to bring in rice into Belize for sixty-nine cents.  Listen, fool di talk but dah noh fool di listen.  After he brings in the first few containers for sixty-nine cents, what stops Mr. Charles from taking it up to eighty-nine cents and ninety cents?  There is no alternative, right?  Mr. Charles says that he is going to bring in rice for twenty percent of the market, what stops him from going to twenty-five?  What stops him from going to thirty?  Listen, there was nothing charitable about what he was doing.  Hevlcsnap-6294-11-24-10h10m50s641 does not have the interest of the Belizean consumers [at heart], he has his pocket as his primary interest.  Nobody could quarrel with him with that except that we live in a country where you have a government that has taken a decision with respect to the rice industry, that is going to safeguard the rice industry as an important contributor to development, to gross domestic product and also to employment.  So please, ker da sad story somewhere else.

CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture Jose Alpuche told us off-camera that they will wait and see what Charles does next, but that for now their position has been vindicated. This evening we reached Jack Charles by telephone and he told us that he was “disappointed” in the ruling, because all he wanted was to help the Belizean consumer. But he says he has not given up on trying to get Guyanese rice into the country. Charles spoke of other plans which he declined to elaborate on at this time; however, he told us that when those plans come on stream he will be sure to update the media. In response to Eamon Courtenay’s suggestions that he is trying to get rich from the scheme and that he has offered no guarantees that he will keep his promises, Charles told us he will keep his word – if and when the Guyanese rice hits shelves in Belize, it will be sold at 69 cents per pound. Charles says he calculates that he personally will make about eight dollars per bag of rice sold, while the retail shops make about 9 dollars, and this is calculated in the price. Charles had also promised a special rate of 50 cents per pound for school feeding programs and other charitable causes. Charles also told us he has no vlcsnap-0627-10-06-03h04m16s120communication from the Customs and Excise Department warning him about re-exporting the rice; as far as he is aware the rice remains at Big Creek Port and he is paying storage for it.  This evening we reached Jack Charles by telephone and he told us that he was “disappointed” in the ruling, because all he wanted was to help the Belizean consumer. But he says he has not given up on trying to get Guyanese rice into the country. Charles spoke of other plans which he declined to elaborate on at this time; however, he told us that when those plans come on stream he will be sure to update the media In response to Eamon Courtenay’s suggestions that he is trying to get rich from the scheme and that he has offered no guarantees that he will keep his promises, Charles told us he will keep his word – if and when the Guyanese rice hits shelves in Belize, it will be sold at 69 cents per pound. Charles says he calculates that he personally will make about eight dollars per bag of
rice sold, while the retail shops make about 9 dollars, and this is calculated in the price. Charles had also promised a special rate of 50 cents per pound for school feeding programs and other charitable causes. Charles also told us he has no communication from the Customs and Excise Department warning him about re-exporting the rice; as far as he is aware the rice remains at Big Creek Port and he is paying storage for it.

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