Customs Controller Says Fate of Imported Rice Undecided

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Updated: January 7, 2016

On Wednesday we told you of the injunction that the Chief Justice had granted to Jack Charles as it relates to the forfeit order that was given to the Customs Department by Senior Magistrate, Sharon Frazer.  We spoke to two attorneys well versed on the issue, namely, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who represents the local rice producers and Jack Charles’ attorney, Leeroy Banner.  While there has been recent talk of destroying the three containers of rice still sitting at the Big Creek Port in the Stann Creek District, the Comptroller of Customs, Victor Recinos, today confirmed to Love News that no decision has been taken as to what will be done to the rice.  With the injunction, handed down by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, still in place on the forfeit order, the fate of the grain is yet to be determined.  Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay spoke with Love News yesterday on what the options are for the rice and how it would be explored.

EAMON COURTENAY: “It would seem to me that for customs to sell this or to give it away the obviously must first test it to ensure that it does not pose a risk to plant health, animal health or humans if they consume it; so that would be the first thing that would have to happen. I’m not sure how long that would take and in the meantime the rice would have to sit in storage somewhere. But it seems to me that one of the options is to have it tested and to donate it, I’m sure that they will not be selling it. Another option is to destroy it. I think it’s important for people to understand that there is a real risk in this issue. It was just in 2014 that rice was shipped to Chile, I think it was early 2015, it was shipped to Chile from Guyana and the rice was found to be contaminated. The Chileans refused to accept it and it had to go back. So it’s not that the government or the customs is acting in an irrational way there is a risk here and that risk applies to any type of product like this to commodity like this that is coming from any country in the world; that is why BAHA exists. So this is not something unusual, this is not something that is arbitrary.”

According to Comptroller Recinos, the Customs Department will have three choices if they are re-granted the forfeit order in the courts on January 12.  Those three options include the destruction of the rice if it is not found fit for human consumption; the second option would be the auctioning of the grain and the third option would be the distribution to needy or non-profit organizations.  Love News will keep following the developments in this story.