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Commodity boards merger to wrap up by year end

Published:Friday | January 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Dr Garnet Brown, commodity board merger consultant.

The merger of the three agricultural entities, the coffee and cocoa boards and the export division of the Ministry of Agriculture into a single agency, should be finalised by year end, according to project consultant Rev Dr Garnet Brown.

The merger "is progressing steadily (and) it is my view that before this year is out, it shall be in place," Brown said on Wednesday.

Brown, who was tapped in 2012 to lead the transformation process, which will require a new organisational structure and staffing and legislation, said the legal requirements are now being finalised.

"As soon as that is done, the Government will take it through the paces, and we hope that should be before the year is out," he said.

The restructuring programme will see the Jamaican Government exiting commercial operations in various agricultural markets but maintaining oversight of the sectors' roles through a new entity to be known as the Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

The Coffee Industry Board, Cocoa Industry Board and the regulatory functions of the Coconut Industry Board will all be merged under ACRA, but the coconut agency will otherwise remain operational.

The commercial assets of the Cocoa Industry Board are being divested to Michael Lee-Chin's Wallenford Limited ahead of the merger.

The negotiations on the final sale terms of the cocoa deal are ongoing - more than a year after the Development Bank of Jamaica decided to sell to Wallenford. The company was selected as the preferred bidder for the cocoa assets in early September 2014.

Cabinet approval has already been granted for drafting instructions for the ACRA bill, which was initially to have been finalised by fiscal year end March 2015. The consultation with sector interests has led to lengthy delays in moving the process forward, Brown said. He now expects headway on the introduction of the legislation over the upcoming months.

"I wouldn't expect it to go beyond the middle of the year. We have a number of drafts, but stakeholders have to comment. Each time we get comments, we have to examine them to see whether we regard them as legitimate ones," said Brown.

"Anything that involves legislation, you can well understand, takes time because we are merging statutory boards that already have their own legislation."

The decision to merge the commodity boards flowed from an agriculture ministry's sectoral study commissioned back in May 2009 against the background of low production and productivity, due largely to inefficient marketing arrangements.