Sugar Shortage Investigations: Supplies Control Unit Zeroes in on Potential Smugglers

Sugar Shortage Investigations: Supplies Control Unit Zeroes in on Potential Smugglers

On Friday, we told you of the list of local distributors who have accessed sugar from BSI/ASR.  With more than 21 million pounds of sugar issued between October last year and April this year, a curiosity lingers as to why there was and remains a shortage of sugar.  Well it turns out that the investigators at the Supplies Control Unit may be onto certain distributors who are not using the sugar locally.  Director of Supplies Control, Lennox Nicholson, gave Love News an update, indicating that the unit’s investigation may be closer to identifying the sugar smugglers.

Lennox Nicholson, Controller of Supplies:  “One of the companies that has been doing stellar work trying to supply the market as well is actually Circle R out of Blue Creek. They have been found to be supplying extensively in the retail market. Mr.Ralph Tatum product is also showing up as well as Belize Marketing and Development Corporation. Where we have a concern with reference to that list is in the fact that there are establishments on that list who have been recorded as receiving product for onward distribution to the retail sector and we have not been able to find any evidence of them having supplied anybody in the retail market. That is where our difficulty is. So the companies that I mentioned, your Belize Marketing Board, Tatum, your Circle R, your Cowo, we have been and along with some others to a lesser extent we have been able to find evidence and find enterprises, establishments that have been supplied by some of these parties but there are some on the list, on that distributor list where we have not been able to find a single establishment that was supplied by those enterprise and that is where we’re going to focus our attention in terms of trying to bring a resolution to the particular supply crunch that we have at this time.”

One of several questions that arose from the list of sugar distributors was the name, Octavio Cowo.  On Friday we reported that both Cowo Senior and Junior had passed away, but as Nicholson explained, that particular business is being managed by a third generation.

Lennox Nicholson, Controller of Supplies: “We gave an undertaking to the public that we would be doing some exercises in the retail sector to determine and establish which operators are actually supplying product to the market. And during that exercise, I can tell you that the enterprise known as Octavio Cowo has appeared as supplying product to the retail sector significantly active in at least four districts, three or four districts. So we can establish that the enterprise known as Octavia Cowo  that is on that list as getting a quota of sugar from Belize Sugar Industries is very much active and it is supplying product to the retail market. And as a matter of fact, I can tell you that my inspectors report to me that in one particular district that particular enterprise is responsible for some 90% of the product that has been supplied to that district. So whereas some persons formerly involved in the enterprise may have passed away, the enterprise itself as Octavio Cowo that is on record as receiving product from BSI, we have been able to verify through our inspections and through receipts and invoices that they are very much active. I would not say that we have managed to track every single pound of product issued or sold to the company, but we can establish and we can inform the public that the enterprise is active and they have been supplying the market with product.”

With the expanding tasks for the Supplies Control Unit, our newsroom asked Lennox if its human resource is spread thin.  Our question is based on the recent hike in bread prices, the recent zero-rated hygiene products and the sugar distribution issue – which are all monitored by the SCU.

Lennox Nicholson, Controller of Supplies: “In one week we covered this country from Corozal to Toledo. There are two gaps that we have, to municipalities that we have not managed to cover as yet and we have a pretty good idea and indication of who is actually supplying, who may not be supplying to the extent that is consistent with their quota and based on the list that you made reference to we have a pretty decent idea where some of the concerns and the emphasis for reform and improvement needs to be. So what happened is that in the normal course of things when we do inspections for other matters we just incorporate this into our normal routine. To be frank with you if our desk has any evidence that anybody is smuggling sugar across the border the first entities that would be advised of that would be entities like Customs, entities like the police department and entities like the court. So if we whenever this desk would come across any substantial evidence to indicate that a particular individual is actively involved in that trade that is the course of action that would be taken right ? But like I mentioned at this stage what we have been trying to do is to determine how the market is being supplied and for those entities that are receiving product from BSI and are not supplying it to the market or there is not any evidence of them supplying it to the market intervention will take place particularly with respect to those entities.”

We will have more from the Supplies Control Unit, particularly, on the issue of political interference./

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