Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Praedial Larceny Unit to be expanded

Published:Wednesday | September 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Shaun Baugh, director of planning and evaluation at Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda.

The Praedial Larceny Unit is to be expanded to an islandwide outfit, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries has said.

With some $5 billion to $6 billion lost annually to thieves of agricultural products, Minister Karl Samuda, said added effort will be placed on tackling the problem through the expanded unit, at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Tuesday.

"I am going to expand that unit entirely right across the country," Samuda said, but gave no timeline for the expansion. "Like crime generally, it is something that we live with every day," he said, noting the implications on the livelihood of farmers as well as agriculture GDP.

To date, the Praedial Larceny Unit in the ministry has seen a 14 per cent reduction, said principal director of agricultural planning and policy Shaun Baugh. It comes alongside more serious efforts by law-enforcement personnel to pursue reports of agricultural theft.

Farmers have long complained that their cases of stolen animals and produce are not treated with the same regard and level of importance as other criminal matters. Samuda said the praedial larceny unit was working with law enforcement to change that. Members of the judiciary and the police have also been engaged in sensitisation sessions to discuss more practical measures to deter praedial theft, the last session occurring about two months ago, Baugh added.

"One of the things that came out of it is setting up a helpline for the victims so they will be able to know when their cases are being called up," the director said.

The agriculture ministry has also proposed amendments to the Agricultural Produce Act and the Praedial Larceny (Prevention) Act to include increased fines, from $250,000 to $3 million, among other things.

"We expect in the near future it should be complete," Baugh said of the amendments to the law.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his Budget Debate presentation earlier this year, indicated that praedial larceny is to be addressed under the Proceeds of Crime Act POCA a law that deals specifically with organised crime and provides for the seizure of assets of persons found to have accumulated wealth through criminal means.