PM promises sugar farmers outstanding funds but criticizes stakeholders
Sugar farmers have been promised they will get the money they need to plant crops this season, but a tough-talking Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has accused plantation owners and stakeholders of being responsible for the decline of the industry.
Stuart gave both the assurance and rebuke after farmers complained that monies were still outstanding from 2014.
He delivered word today that the money – part of an overall $72 million incentive programme for planters – was available and would be paid.
Responding to questions after addressing the first monthly business luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Hilton Barbados Resort, Stuart disclosed that Ansa Merchant Bank of Trinidad and Tobago was about to pay over the funds to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC).
“So far as the monies owed to the planters are concerned, I am very glad the Minister of Finance [Chris Sinckler] is here, because he and I spoke about this matter as recently as this morning. And I am aware that all of the documentation needed to be signed and whatever had to be executed has been executed and that BAMC is to get the pay over from Ansa Merchant Bank so that the farmers can get their money,” he said.
Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of Sagicor Life Inc,. Edward Clarke had said it was unacceptable that the farmers had not been paid for last year’s crop.
Sagicor owns a number of sugar plantations and Clarke told the Prime Minister his Government needed to take action now on the $10 million he said was owed to the industry.
He said if the crop was to begin at the end of next month as scheduled, then the farmers would have to be paid for last year.
Clarke also indirectly accused the Government of leaving the sugar industry to die.
But Prime Minister Stuart struck back and blasted the private stakeholders and owners of plantations whom he said were to blame for the present state of the industry.
He said while successive governments had commissioned a plethora of studies, the essentially private sector-led industry had not given a single recommendation to improve it.
Speaking directly to the Sagicor executive, Stuart pointed out to Clarke he did not have any recommendations to offer during discussions with him on the industry.
“The Government had nothing before it, nothing at all, not a mustard seed of recommendation from the private sector running the sugar industry or involved in the sugar industry about the way forward for the sugar industry,” he said.
“We sat down at a meeting at Ilaro Court and when we were discussing the future of the industry and you and your cohorts said ‘but prime minister, we don’t necessarily agree with that approach’. And I said to you – cause you were the person who made the comment – . . . ‘Edward, you don’t agree with the Government’s approach . . . what has the private sector put on the table for me to disagree with?’ And you said ‘we have put nothing, but we will try and put something together’.”
Stuart admitted that a submission came sometime later.
The Prime Minister further pointed out that Government had intervened and rescued sugar in the 1990s through a restructuring programme, when it should never have been involved in the first place.
“The sugar industry of Barbados was always a private sector industry. It got into horrible difficulty in the early 1990s, not because any government carried it there, but because those who were responsible for it carried it there. The government came in, restructured it. So the problems in the sugar industry are not recent problems,” he insisted.
“The truth is, the Government should not be involved in it at all. It was mismanaged. From the 19th century, the sugar industry of Barbados and parts of the Caribbean, and Barbados in particular, was in decline and the people who were managing it did nothing at all to arrest the decline.”