BSCFA Continues Pressure on PM

BSCFA Continues Pressure on PM

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association continues to call on Prime Minister Briceno to force the Belize Sugar Industries to participate in the government’s Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry. The association believes that PM Briceno should continue to support their effort despite having harsh words for the leader in their last press conference. Today, the association attended day two of the budget debate to support the Minister of Agriculture’s presentation. Their appearance comes after BSI/ASR rejected the COI’s terms of reference and stated that it would refuse to participate in the venture, which it believes is invasive, politically driven, and one-sided. Vice Chairman of BSCFA’s Committee of Management Fred Ortega says the association believes the Prime Minister can do something to force the multinational to take part, despite the PM saying otherwise. 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice Chairman, BSCFA: “It’s a pity that they behave in that way because in all before they had said that they would want to put two commissioners on which they have named them, from Brazil to join the other three persons from Mauritius. So they were on board from long before with this thing of the commission of inquiry, it’s nothing new so it’s a pity to hear from them now on this date that they will be coming out and saying that they will not support the commission of inquiry. I think that the Prime Minister has to take better steps and better decisions in regards to this commission of inquiry because as you can recall the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture they have mentioned many a times that once the commission of inquiry brings out their information that information will be used by the cane farmers, not only the BSCFA but also the other associations to get a better commercial agreement and also it will assist the Government of Belize to produce a modernized Sugar Industry Act. So to us the BSCFA it’s not a surprise but we do believe that Belize should not admit that multinationals come and place in our throat or in our mouths what they want things to happen in their way. Belize is a nation of laws and rules and rules must prevail. I will use this example, whenever a Belizean opens a small business and the GST gets to know that there is a business what do they do ? They come directly to the business and start to investigate so that person pays it’s GST. So if they do that to the Belizean small business people why they should not do that to the multinationals ? Why is it that we believe that this is supposed to be done to the multinationals? Because they have enjoyed things that we as Belizeans have not enjoyed.”

In its release, BSI stated that its objective of becoming the sugar bowl of the CARICOM market was in jeopardy due to this latest high-handed and unfair action by the government. Ortega weighed in on BSI considering abandoning its operations in the country and the possible impacts if the company does so. 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice Chairman, BSCFA: “If you can recall in 2010 we the BSCFA were prepared to buy out the mill. We had the money in hand already to do so. It was a pity that the government at the time didn’t give us the opportunity to buy it over and rather they chose to give it to ASR. So if they want to leave let them leave, the industry will not die because they want to leave, there are other investors that want to come in the country but because the design of the Sugar Industry Act many of them that come just go away because they see that the design of the Sugar Industry Act presently as it is is in the monopoly of BSI/ASR. So we are not afraid if they want to pack and go because we know that that will not happen. They are just trying to threaten us and threaten the government so that we fall on our knees and we do as they please and that will not happen. In the recent years the government had placed many commission of inquiries, lately there was two, one in regards to the sales of vehicles and the other one I think in regards to sales of lands of Portico. So they have placed commission of inquiries to do investigation and the people that are called to come to those investigations have to come. So why is it that now that BSI or ASR came out with this that they say that they don’t want to pursue it why is it that the government cannot call them to the table and come and participate ? Because this industry is not for only a few people, this industry is a national industry that comprises of more than twenty thousand people involved in this. So why is it that things cannot happen to do the investigation that needs to be done so that we can know what are the true cost of every service being given ?”

The BSCFA has seemingly created a division of ideas between the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister, who have expressed different views on the mill and the idea of nationalizing the factory. Ortega says the group is disheartened by the difference in positions and will continue to call on the Prime Minister to listen to them. 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice Chairman, BSCFA: “The Prime Minister well knew from before he was elected how the sugar industry was and he himself said that once he’s elected that he will be working for the betterment of the sugar industry, that the sugar industry will be one of his priority that he will be creating the marketing committee on his first hundred days of government and that hasn’t happened as yet. So we do believe that as Prime Minister of this country he has a responsibility to look over the sugar industry and to see that the sugar industry has the necessary tools for it to be viable for everybody. Well it’s a pity that now that he is elected to give that type of response I think that as the leader of the country he has a moral responsibility to the sugar industry. I could say for the past ten years the farmers have placed on our shoulders to see that we find a way for the farmers to own a mill or to buy a mill. If you can recall in 2010 when BSI declared that they were bankrupt we as the BSCFA found where to get the money to buy over. Nevertheless we were not given the opportunity so we have that mandate from our farmers and we have to work towards those mandates of our farmers. What has took us back in regards to that is the design as I mentioned before how the Sugar Industry Act is developed where BSI has the control of the first 1.5 million tons of cane in production.”

Ortega added that they hope that the COI will be able to proceed with all parties taking part.

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