'This minister will not fail to act' - Samuda defends decision to dissolve Agricultural Credit Board
Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda has revealed that his decision to dissolve the board of directors of the Agricultural Credit Board (ACB) was based on instructions from Prime Minister Andrew Holness after the board failed to take steps to fulfil a commitment made by the Government to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
During a press conference yesterday at the St Andrew head office of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Samuda said that it was critical for him to look at the time frame he had been given to bring the ACB in line with a number of objectives, including the structuring and operations of provident societies and friendly societies, to meet a requirement under the IMF.
"Now, when the minister is instructed by the prime minister, based on a commitment given to the IMF, and it is agreed in the Cabinet, and the minister instructs the board to do certain things and take certain action and that action is not taken, one thing you can be sure of is that this minister will not fail to act, will not fail to act," Samuda declared.
He further explained that the Cabinet's decision was informed by his view that the ACB board, chaired by Hugh Graham, a qualified agriculturalist and rural development expert, was not acting in concert with the Government's drive to achieve certain objectives by the end of the financial year. This includes the process of transferring its responsibility of supervising the National People's Cooperative banks to the Co-operatives and Friendly Societies, which is better equipped for this function.
"Given the urgency of completing this process by March 31, in line with the Government's commitment under the public sector rationalisation plan, I took the decision to remove the board on February 8, 2017. The activities to be undertaken during this transition period will be guided by the permanent secretary, Donavon Stanberry. Those are the facts, and all parties who are essential to this process have been fully advised and have been duly briefed on the decision taken by me in respect of this board," he declared.
In sharing the information, Samuda said that he was clearing the air on speculation about the appropriateness of his actions with respect to the dismissal
of the ACB board, which he is empowered by law to do. This was a veiled reference to concerns raised by Dr Dayton Campbell, opposition spokesman on agriculture.
In a press release on Monday, Campbell stated, "The Opposition is questioning the motive and rationale for the sudden firing of the entire board of the ACB by the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda earlier this month. The ACB facilitates and regulates credit to the agriculture sector. The ACB spearheaded the strengthening of the People's Cooperative Bank after irregularities were uncovered there two years ago. The ACB installed retired banker Rex James to oversee the restructuring of the PCB bank."
The opposition spokesman further said, "It is strange that the minister has claimed that the board was dismissed effective immediately because it is to be merged with the Department of Cooperatives and Friendly Societies when the Agricultural Credit Board Act has not been repealed and no formal proposals for the proposed merger have been presented."