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Editorial: Sugar and justice: a battle for survival

Published:Monday | April 11, 2016 | 4:00 AM

Two substantial public-policy issues - the question of the efficacy and efficiency of the justice system, and whether the Government should intervene to shore up wobbly sugar companies - collided last week, possibly edging the Holness administration closer to doing the latter. The Government is likely to conclude that it has no other option.

This newspaper, however, urges care and caution, lest the Government find itself in a mission creep and a return to a place where it was a mere six years ago, owning the bulk of the island's sugar industry that lost near J$5 billion a year and was a liability to taxpayers.

Such an outcome would pose danger to the gains of the macroeconomic stabilisation programme of the past four years and threaten the country's economic support and reform agreement with the International Monetary Fund to which the administration has declared commitment.

Discussion of the deficiencies in Jamaica's justice system focuses, quite understandably, primarily on what happens in the criminal courts - with their backlog of around half a million cases that sometimes take forever to be resolved. Indeed, it is this sector that is receiving priority attention, with initiatives to break the logjam, including a suggestion by the recently installed justice minister, Delroy Chuck, that judges throw out cases that have been in the system for more than five years for want of prosecution.

The problems are, of course, just as deep in the civil courts, but without similar focus. Civil disputes, including commercial ones, can lag for decades, which will be a matter of increasing concern if Jamaica continues to fix its economy and maintain its momentum of improvement in global indices as a place in which to do business and, by extension, to invest.

But among the things of which investing capital wants to be assured is an independent and efficient judicial system by which to arbitrate disputes. The former, yes; the latter, problematic.

By the rate of Jamaica's legal system, the speed at which the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal ruled on an application by Algix Ltd for an injunction against Appleton Estate discharging effluent in the Black River, unless, it meets established regulatory standards, was lightning. Last week, the appeal court ruled in favour of Algix, which believes that Appleton's actions, six miles upstream, were responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish in its ponds.

 

SUGAR FACTORY TO REMAIN CLOSED

 

The upshot is that Appleton's sugar factory will remain closed, meaning that it won't be able to process sugar cane and manufacture sugar from farms in the surrounding area. In the circumstance, the Government will feel compelled to go ahead with its plans to operate, ostensibly on a short-term basis, the Long Pond factory in Trelawny, whose owners, Everglades Farms, mothballed the facility because of economic problems.

At the same time, the Government is considering how to handle the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, which has decided to withdraw from the factory and fields at Monymusk, Clarendon - one of three acquired in the wave of divestment.

These are not the only sugar-related businesses facing financial problems with the loss of preferential markets and propped-up prices for sugar in the European Union. With 30,000 jobs at stake, the Government will feel pressured to act to save them, but it must remember why it divested the business and think hard about Jamaica's future in sugar.

On the Algix-Appleton matter, there are more urgent rounds to go that require similar alacrity - as does the entire justice system.