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Independent Expert recommends greater transparency and accountability in the sugar industry, says BSCFA

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2024. 7:24 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) issued a press release of its own on the report submitted by independent expert Hugh O’Brien, which they say sheds light on questionable practices in the sugar industry and calls for increased transparency.

O’Brien’s report, commissioned as part of negotiations between the BSCFA and Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI), focuses on the controversial “throughput fee” and “terminal handling charge” levied by BSI. Almost like a reaction to BSI’s press release on Friday, the BSCFA states “True to form, ASR/BSI has only provided information highlighting Mr. O’Brien’s decision on the throughput fee and terminal handling charge as port expenses”. The BSCFA contends that the analysis reveals that these fees were imposed on farmers from 2019 to 2023 without their consent, contravening the existing commercial agreement.

The BSCFA also claims that the report “shows a duplication in the charging of throughput fee related to contracted services already provided by the Port of Big Creek but which BSI chooses to undertake at its own expense. This situation raises the question as to where are those unnecessary expenses being accounted for and charged to cane farmers, who pay 65% of all deductions.”

O’Brien recommends that stevedoring and throughput costs be reported separately to ensure clarity in the calculation of sugar cane prices. He also suggests that BSI request shipping agents to separate ocean freight and terminal handling charges in their invoices.

The BSCFA has long sought clarification on these co-mingled costs during negotiations with BSI. The association questions BSI’s commitment to transparency, given their reluctance to disclose business information that directly impacts cane farmers’ income.

The report highlights only two of several contentious cost items in the sugar value chain. The BSCFA eagerly anticipates the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, which will delve into other crucial factors like local handling charges and manufacturing allowance.

“The future and sustainability of the sugar industry as well as the livelihoods of cane farmers and their families rests on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry,” ends the release.

 

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