Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial | It's a bit more than mischief, Mr Samuda

Published:Sunday | May 14, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Given the bellicosity with which he responds to any presumed affront to his integrity, Karl Samuda, the agriculture minister, should have known, and done better, about the mingling of his personal affairs with those of the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB).

But even if we accept his action of allowing the pilot cultivation of dairy feed grass on his private farm to have been a temporary lapse of judgement, Mr Samuda still needs to provide the public with compelling evidence that it was neither this matter, nor more critically, his reported objection, on technical grounds, to granting import permits to a preferred firm that cost former JDDB CEO Hugh Graham his job.

If that were the case, it would likely have a chilling effect on how technocrats do their jobs, which would be bad for government. At the same time, it would place a dent in the reputation that Mr Samuda has cultivated for himself as a hard man who may talk loudly, gives as much, or more, than he gets, but, ultimately, is reasonable and fair.

To be fair, Mr Samuda, although he says he would have been an entitled beneficiary, has conceded missteps in allowing a government-funded project to be undertaken on his farm without proper documentation. But the broader context of this issue is important to appreciate why it, nonetheless, still generates concern.

Jamaica, annually, produces around 12 million litres of dairy milk, less than half the output of three decades and well below domestic demand for the product. The shortfall is made up from imports, much of which is dry, powdered milk.

 

REBUILDING DAIRY HERDS

 

The Jamaican Government is keen on changing that by rebuilding the dairy herds and, in time, milk production. Among its recent initiatives is piloting the cultivation of Mombasa grass. The dairy board, or officials therein, caused a 15-acre demonstration plot of the grass to be cultivated on Mr Samuda's farm. Mr Samuda insisted that he initially refused the proposal, offered to pay, but was turned down.

Nothing, however, was in writing. "That is one of the things I regret, not putting it in writing," he said. "I should have anticipated the level of mischief that abounds in all quarters."

It is not only the potential for mischief that should have concerned Mr Samuda. He should have been alert to the perception of conflict of interest; that he was using his public office for private gain and depriving more deserving dairy farmers of the benefit.

In Parliament last week, the shadow agriculture minister, Dayton Campbell, claimed that Mr Graham objected to what was a tripling of the demonstration plot on Mr Samuda's farm, as well as subsequent plans to expand the cultivation. Those disagreements, Dr Campbell claimed, were exacerbated when Mr Graham maintained his objection, on sanitary and phytosanitary grounds, to milk powder being imported from Colombia - in the face of lobbying from the potential importer. He demanded that the minister's directive that the permits be granted be put in writing.

Mr Samuda said the allegations were "erroneous" and that there is mischief afoot. He needs to bring the evidence to prove his case, lest the public perceive more than inadvertent lapses and missteps and technocrats begin to drop their hands.