Minister Musa heads Cabinet sub-committee for sugar
The longstanding impasse in the sugar industry remains unresolved, following a demonstration by the northern cane farmers last week. The Government of Belize has listened to arguments made by the farmers – primarily the BSCFA – and the miller, BSI/ASR and Cabinet announced on March 7 that it will empanel a subcommittee to hear from the association and BSI/ASR to chart a way forward. Chairing that Cabinet subcommittee is Minister of Home Affairs, Kareem Musa. The idea of this group is to guide discussions between the miller and the farmers, which will hopefully result in a commercial agreement. Minister Musa, who is a trained attorney, spoke at length about some of his expectations.
Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries: “At the last Cabinet meeting the Prime Minister appointed a subcommittee to deal with the sugar dispute. That subcommittee is chaired by myself; it also has on the committee Minister Oscar Mira and the Minister of Agriculture Minister Mai. We had the opportunity on Monday of this week to engage with the leadership of the BSCFA in Belmopan. We had a four hour meeting over at our office. Very productive, very fruitful meeting essentially doing just that to express to the cane farmers what our position is, what our role is in this and hearing what their expectations are in terms of moving forward to resolve this dispute. There are some short term goals that we want to clear up, that we want to achieve and then of course there is the long term objective of arriving at a commercial agreement. Within that negotiation there is of course the discussion on what changes might need to be made to the Belize Sugar Industries Act to modernize the act as you know it’s a very old piece of legislation and one of the things that the cane farmers are asking for. And that is one of the things that the cane farmers are asking for and so the commission of inquiry runs parallel to our sub committee efforts which is really to engage in a meaningful way with both sides and so while we met with the cane farmers on Monday the sub committee also met with BSI/ASR yesterday at Tower Hill and again a very productive meeting with them and so while it is that this age old dispute seems like something that cannot be resolved if you ask anybody it’s just something that goes on every single time the commercial agreement comes to an end. We believe that our involvement from a ministerial level is not just to be a sort of referee for this very important industry, which affects the livelihood of a substantial portion of the north, is not just to be referees but also to lend a guiding hand and to look at it from different perspectives to see if there are other solutions that we can find to this like I said age old dispute.”
But Musa himself has no prior experience in the industry, which may appear to put him at a slight disadvantage. Minister Musa contends, however, that his leading this effort is one where a fresh, unbiased perspective can weigh the arguments effectively and meaningfully.
Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries: “I think it has more to do with giving it a fresh pair of eyes and so I am an attorney at law and so I am familiar with how legislation is drafted, how commercial agreements are drafted and so any attorney as you know the last person to mediate in something like this was Mrs. Julie-Ann Ellis Bradley, she has no knowledge of the sugar industry either and so it really involved a crash course on my part to learn every single thing that there is to know and there’s still a lot that I need to learn but I think that the subcommittee having had the opportunity to meet with both entities is getting a very good grasp of the situation and the issues at hand and so we can then give a more informed opinion on these things moving forward. And so it might seem that oh what does Kareem know about the sugar but I think the reason the Prime Minister asked me to do it is one I do not have a horse in this race at all and so we recognize the importance of both entities and so it’s really to get somebody who is unbiased and who has the legal training to be able to maneuver through these things.”