JACRA start-up delayed by lagging regulations
Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority, JACRA, under whose umbrella the commodity boards have been merged, should start functioning by year end, according to permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry.
"That is the expectation and the hope," he said. "As you know, the JACRA Act has been passed. However, the regulations have been lagging for some time now."
The only roadblock to finalising the regulations, he said, would be bottlenecks at the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, the body that drafts legislation.
Under the new regime for commodities boards - JACRA combines the coconut, cocoa and coffee boards as well as the ministry's export division, which oversees trade in spices - the Government is divesting its ownership of assets and largely, but not entirely, exiting the commercial side of the markets.
Stanberry said the disposal of assets is ongoing, while noting it had no impact on the regulations.
"When you divest things, you cannot always predict what will happen. You need a willing seller and a willing buyer. We have gone one round with the cocoa assets and we did not get a taker, so we have to go back [to the drawing board]," he said.
The Government's divestment agent, Development Bank of Jamaica, DBJ, had been in talks with Portland Holdings, owned by Michael Lee-Chin, for the cocoa holdings, but the deal fizzled.
The Cocoa Board assets include fermentories in Richmond, St Mary, and Morgan's Valley, Clarendon; the Montrose cocoa farm, also located in Richmond; processing equipment at Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston; and 13.7 acres of land with buildings at Haughton Court in Lucea, Hanover.
"The Lee-Chin people declined; they were no longer interested. I don't know why," said Stanberry.
"We have since got one or two unsolicited enquiries; we are in consultation with DBJ in terms of the next move," he said.
The export division itself owns a warehouse in Kingston, but Stanberry said that will not be sold, as it might be needed for JACRA's oversight function of certifying commodities.
The Coconut Board will be undergoing reforms to its structure, and will continue to own its assets, he added.
"The position is that this board will transition from a statuary body to a member-owned organisation, registered under the Companies Act. They now will be responsible to continue the commercial activities of the board," Stanberry said.
"What JACRA is doing is, on the one hand, separating commercial from regulatory functions and, having done that separation, moving to consolidate all the regulatory functions of those bodies into one. The regulatory functions will be subsumed to JACRA," the permanent secretary explained.
Stanberry said that only the regulations were needed for JACRA to open office.
"How the thing is set up, it is the regulations which will give effect to the act itself. For example, it is the regulations which will indicate when it will come into being. We are working feverishly with the chief parliamentary counsel for those regulations," he said.
"It's not as if we are not doing anything. We are preparing offices, working with employees - some of whom will be separated - working with unions, working with an organisational chart. So, it's not as if we are sitting down, twiddling our thumbs," he added.
JACRA will have its offices at Marcus Garvey Drive, in the same area occupied by the Coffee Board.