The fate of the three containers of Guyanese rice brought into the Big Creek Port is now in the hands of the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin. Renee Trujillo has the story.
RENEE TRUJILLO REPORTING
“Thursday, December 17, 2015 saw the arrival of three containers of Guyanese rice coming into the Big Creek port in the Stann Creek District. The rice was imported by business man Jack Charles who had made the announcement some weeks prior that he would be bringing competition to the local rice producers as his imported rice would be cheaper on the shelves for consumers. Things did not go as planned for Charles as he failed to obtain a permit from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) for the entry of the rice into Belize. The matter ended up in the courts and justice Sonya Young on Monday January 4th 2106 denied Charles’ application for a judicial review. The saga of the imported rice then took on a twist as on the following day the controller of customs was granted a forfeit order by the magistrate Sharon Fraizer in the absence of Jack Charles. This now meant that the government of Belize could take possession of the rice via the customs department and dispose of it at their digression. Upon getting the news of the Magistrate’s ruling an appeal was quickly filled by Charles’ attorney Leroy Banner to have that forfeit order injuncted. Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin granted the injunction on the condition that Banner and his clients submit the grounds of the appeal by midday today. Love News spoke with Banner this afternoon on the basis of his appeal.”
“We will stick it under the principle of natural justice which says that you must be given the opportunity to be heard. What happened yesterday is that there was an exparte hearing where the Magistrate Court ordered that the three containers of rice be forfeited and destroyed by Customs. We were never given an opportunity to be heard and that is the main ground under our laws that says you must be given an opportunity to be heard and that is why were are filing an injunction. Our contention is that we must, under law be given the opportunity under law to be heard. They cannot destroy it or no order should be made without the other party being heard that is simply a principle in law. That is our contention, not the wording of the order per se but that we were deprived of that opportunity to be heard.”
RENEE TRUJILLO REPORTING
“The injunction granted by the Chief Justice expires on February 1 2016. Until then the rice remains at the Big Creek Port. While the local rice producers are not a party in this new case their attorney Senior Council Eamon Courtney expressed concern over the injunction that was granted saying that an injunction should not be granted where damages are an adequate remedy.”
“Speaking on purely the principles of law because we are not familiar and we have not seen the facts but the first rule with respect to an injunction is that an injunction is not granted where damages are an adequate remedy. What does that mean? If you go to court and say to the court, ‘somebody wants to destroy my house’; Let’s say the Housing Department or the CBA or whatever wants to destroy my house, clearly the court is going to give an injunction to restrain the destruction of that house because that is your home. If it is destroyed you don’t have anywhere to live. When the case is finished if the person who wants to destroy it wins, it is destroyed. However, if you are dealing with a commodity that is going to be sold, it is going to be sold for money. So the court is going to look at this and say, ‘why are you preserving this rice? Why do you want it injuncted?” and his answer can only be, ‘because I want to get it out of Customs and sell it’. And when he sells it he’s going to get money. In those circumstances damages are an adequate remedy and therefore no injunction should be granted. I want to stress that I have not seen the papers but I would think that it is extremely unlikely that this injunction is going to be maintained because it is clear that Mr.Charles intends to sell this rice and therefore what his claim is sounds in money, he can be compensated. So we will have to see what happens.”
RENEE TRUJILLO REPORTING
“At the close of tonight the parties involved are yet to be given a date by the Chief Justice where a ruling will be handed down on whether the injunction remains and the three containers of rice remain at the Big Creek Port. Reporting for Love News I am Renee Trujillo.”
This afternoon a release came out of the Belize Energy Workers union appealing to the Government of Belize that they allow the rice to be tested and then distributed to organizations who can make full use of the grain. The release states, quote, “ As a stake holder, representative of many families, consumers of our Belizean Traditional staples, the BEWU finds it necessary to call on the Government of Belize not to proceed with the apparent decision to destroy the rice now under custody of B.A.H.A. which business man “Jack Charles” was trying to import into our country. We believe that no wise Government would destroy food which could be placed to a better use. We are also sure this would not sit well in the eyes of the International Community. However, we also believe that B.A.H.A. must ensure this rice is safe for consumption first, this should be easy for them since they are the authority in making a determination of whether food products being imported into our country are safe. Once this is done we recommend that instead of the rice being destroyed that it be distributed to organizations around the country which help feed the children, the elderly and poor. It can also be given to those schools which already have in place a feeding program. Finally, and in fairness to all concerned, we also believe the owner of the rice should at least be compensated for the cost price of the rice. If we are not a country of wasteful people or a country with the culture of taking advantage of others, it is time we start acting as one.” End of quote.