Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015. 8:53 pm CST.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015. AARON HUMES Reporting: While a majority of sugar cane farmers are staying with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) there is internal wrangling over the signing of the Commercial Agreement with Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and American Sugar Refining Inc. (ASR), scheduled to take place later this week.
Senior leaders of the BSCFA have accused the Barrow administration of abandoning them at a crucial moment and not doing enough to stand beside them.
But the Government has begun its own media offensive aimed at correcting what it calls “misinformation” being spread within the Association.
According to Senator Godwin Hulse, the Minister of Labour and Local Government and Leader of Government Business in the Senate, not much has changed and the farmers have lost little.
He told reporters that the schedule of payment for sugar milled from cane has not changed and the farmers gain payment for bagasse even at 51 cents per ton, and at any time if there is dissatisfaction, especially if the strategic plan which is scheduled to be discussed does not come through, the farmers can walk away.
According to Hulse, the issue of cane ownership is not as important as potential benefits for farmers which can always be re-negotiated, and he insists that the political rhetoric seeking to tie Government to the rendering apart of the BSCFA is just that – rhetoric.
If there is no explanation of how the farmers lose by signing the agreement, then the arguments of its opponents fail.
Attorney General Wilfred Elrington says farmers were given the best advice and options and the decision was always theirs.
Ultimately, it came down to whether the farmers had a back-up plan that anticipated the current scenario: a stand-off during which time the product is degrading in the fields.
Without such a plan he says, the farmers have no leg to stand on, sympathy aside.
In related news, cane farmers have mooted a plan to ask the Government to put back some $5.5 million distributed over the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association’s wishes in the Christmas season as farmers waited for the crop to start.
Their argument is that they acted under duress and in defense of their position.
But Attorney General Wilfred Elrington told reporters today that he doesn’t buy that argument.
The Petrocaribe funds are ultimately taxpayers’ funds and their use has to be justified.
A “bail-out” of the Association, he says, should not qualify.
Colleague Senator Godwin Hulse agrees, saying that farmers were advised and made the decision against that advice. But he says that does not mean the demise of either Fairtrade or the BSCFA.
He believes Fairtrade is open to compromise especially with the advent of new association seeking their share.
The Government did not comply immediately.
Now the situation has changed, and under threat of new associations forming to argue for their share of the pie, the Government is going to the House of Representatives on Monday to pass the requested amendments. Attorney General Wilfred Elrington explains the Government’s dallying as an attempt to protect the BSCFA’s position as main partner to BSI.
The Attorney General says that with circumstances now changed the Government has a basis to act and will do so, as the Constitution protects freedom of association.
Elrington says the amendments mooted do not consider individual farmers as being able to sign agreements with BSI.
The House meets for the first time in 2015 on Monday, January 19.
Finally, Senator Godwin Hulse, who is a farmer and businessman by trade, mentioned other developing producers of sugar cane across the country who are also affected.
According to Hulse, properties in the River Valley, Cayo and Toledo Districts are unable to sell their sugar cane because the Tower Hill factory does not have enough production capacity yet.
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