At the close of 2015 there were concerns coming out of the rice industry as local farmers were anxious that the containers of Guyanese rice sitting at the Big Creek Port in southern Belize would have been allowed on the shelves for consumers to purchase, thus giving them, the local farmers, a disadvantage particularly because of the difference in price. The containers of imported rice are still at the port and it seems that now they will either be discarded or sent back to Guyana as Justice Sonia Young did not grant leave for the application on judicial review, submitted on behalf of importer, Jack Charles. Charles was asking for judicial review on the decision of the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, BAHA, in denying him the authorization in having the rice cleared from the port. We understand that the local rice producers were not called upon to make submissions in the court as the application filed was not properly done. Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay represented the rice producers and spoke of this morning’s hearing.
“Essentially what the government argued, quite rightly, in their submissions was that the issue that is before the court is an importer who says “I need a license, I applied for it, I didn’t get it, I don’t care; I’m bringing in my goods. Notwithstanding the fact that I have not obtained the necessary permit”. Then comes to court and say, “I don’t have the permit and I want the court to order the importation of the product that requires a license, in effect asking the court to assist him to break the law. The court was very clear that it is not there to assist anyone in breaking the law and therefore a person who does not have the necessary import permit for the importation of rice will not be allowed to use the court as a basis on which to get some sort of relief. I would use the language of the CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture in his affidavit that it was done in defiance of the law. Mr.Charles obviously believes that simply bringing in the product here he will be able to get what he wants notwithstanding what the law says. I think the big issue herein so far as my clients are concerned is the decision that the Customs has now taken which is that the product must leave Belize, they are giving them a chance for the product to leave Belize and if they don’t do that then the product has to be destroyed. We do not want rice that has not been subject to a test to be brought into Belize; it constitutes a risk not only to the agricultural sector but also to food security and safety because it would not have been tested.”
Representing Jack Charles was Attorney Leeroy Banner who says that while he doesn’t see if fit to appeal the matter he will have to wait for further instructions from his client.
“What happened is that the court held that because there was no import permit and that was so important that because the importer did not have the import permit then what he did was unlawful and he would not grant leave to apply for judicial review. He was pretty much saying that we needed the import permit and without that you cannot import the goods into Belize. At this time we need to consult with our client and see what direction we go. According to the judge Section 27 is so clear that I don’t think there is any merit in appealing this ruling.”
Justice Young cited in her statement that Charles acted in violation of the law as he had proceeded to have the rice imported without first obtaining an import permit. Love News understands that the Customs and Excise Department has already indicated to Charles that he will need to either send the rice back to Guyana or it will be destroyed.