Posted: Monday, December 29, 2014. 7:18 pm CST.
Monday, December 29, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: Aggrieved members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) have raised the stakes in their attempt to get the Association to reconsider signing the Commercial Agreement with Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI).
Reports from the North said that BSI and the BSCFA were closer to signing the agreement which would effectively signal the opening the crop season for 2014-2015.
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 whom is in charge of making the inquiries about cane quality.
They have received that agreement, but Keme told reporters that it does not change their stance that farmers were cheated out of a fair deal.
Their primary argument is that the farmers are surrendering ownership of the cane, without which they will not be able to join in agreements with BSI, against their own public resolution.
He says farmers are concerned about the sudden change in direction of the negotiations and want the Association to come clean about what they did on the caneros’ behalf.
Keme says he asked chairman of the Management Committee Ezequiel Cansino personally if he had conceded anything at the meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega prior to the announcement of the breakthrough and he said no. But he would not say if party politics played a role in the turnaround.
Teck, in whose name the application is filed, said that a resolution he passed while still a Director of the Association in 2013 still has effect.
That resolution, among other things, called for the Association not to proceed to signing anything with BSI until they have the resolution and approval of the farmers by majority.
He says he is doing this with the looming deadline of 2017, when the European Union (EU) lifts its preferential treatment of Belize and several other Caribbean sugar producers.
He accuses BSI of lying and collaborating with sugar buyer Tate and Lyle of England to obfuscate the truth of the prices paid for selling sugar in the American market.
He maintains that farmers need not fear further delay of the crop if in exchange they get what is rightfully theirs.
According to 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.
As attorney she declined to proceed ex parte – without notice to the Association – and pointed out that the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) – the authority chaired by Government – has powers under Section 6(e) of the Sugar Industry Act to set a date for crop to proceed and that BSI cannot legally keep their doors closed to farmers at that time.
It lifts the fog of fear for farmers who have already suffered undue delay that BSI can refuse to start a crop without signing the Commercial Agreement, or not have a season at all.
No date has been set for hearing but the BSCFA has three days to respond.
Matura-Shepherd says the matter will be dealt with expeditiously by the courts.
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