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Making sugar sweet again: Prime Minister sorts out roles of Commission of Inquiry, Ministerial Sub-Committee

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2023. 10:52 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: With backing from the Opposition and grudging acceptance from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceño has outlined the two paths to resolving the stalemate in the sugar industry after cañeros once again protested at his doors this week.

But even though the appointment of Florencio Marin Sr as an advisor, mediation and direct negotiations to produce a new commercial agreement have failed, the P.M. said, “we have to continue trying. We have to find a way in trying to find a solution to this. It is quite obvious and when you look at the margins that we won, that many cane farmers voted for us and supported our government and they believe and rightly so that we’ve always had a soft spot for agriculture and in this case for the cane farmers and we want to find a way how we can improve their livelihoods.”

However, the Prime Minister was careful to distinguish the issues to be dealt with by the Commission of Inquiry from those to be dealt with by the Ministerial Sub-Committee appointed following Cabinet this week. The latter will look into the commercial dispute between the BSCFA and Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR). While Government has no legal authority to get directly involved, this will hopefully be an avenue to settlement.

The Committee is chaired by Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries Kareem Musa, whom the P.M. said he chose for his legal acumen as well as his clear head and solutions-oriented thinking. He will be joined by Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai who has direct remit for the sugar industry, and Belmopan’s Oscar Mira, Minister of State for National Defence and Border Security.

Meanwhile, the Commission of Inquiry will take a wider look at the country’s oldest industry and hear from all involved as to where it goes next, but its scope is more limited as the P.M. explained: “A commission of inquiry can only provide recommendations. They have no legal footing to say this is what you have to do… So, we said it is high time to set up the commission of inquiry that will look at the entire sugar industry. Look at the fields, the planting, the production, the cutting of it, transport to BSI to the factory and for the factory, the export. So we have to look at the whole value chain of it.”

The Government is also working on solutions to productivity in the field, producing more sugar from more cane on less available land by such means as irrigation, which a team from Mexico is expected to assist with.

Opposition Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow provided his backing, telling reporters, “It is my firm belief that after meeting with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA), that they want the Commission of Inquiry and they are prepared to accept whatever the result of the Commission of Inquiry is; that is my hope. So I champion accountability and transparency, and if they feel the Government will be an honest broker and they can convene this Commission of Inquiry and get to the bottom of it…”

For the BSCFA, chairman of the Committee of Management Alfredo Ortega was skeptical of the success of a Ministerial Sub-Committee to cut through the bogged down negotiation process between his organization and the miller: “We have gone through mediation in late November/December and if this is the same way this Cabinet committee will act well then it will be very little that can be achieved. We can more achieve in having the commission do its work that is needed and from there then we can both sit down and look forward into the recommendation that will come out from the commission and from there I believe that then more things can be clear and added to the new agreement and to the act that will give us the opportunity on what we are looking for, for the industry.”


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