Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Withdraw claim or face outcome, JMA’s ultimatum to Samuda

Published:Friday | September 22, 2017 | 12:58 AMChristopher Serju
Seaga
Samuda
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The Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) has given Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture, and fisheries, a seven-day ultimatum during which he must retract a recent statement that some of its members continue to rob the State of millions of dollars in revenue by importing refined sugar under false pretences. The JMA said the minister should withdraw or provide evidence in support of the allegation, failing which, the association will have to consider its next move.

On Wednesday, during a press conference at his New Kingston office to announce fundamental changes to the import system for refined (granulated) sugar, Samuda explained that the new policy was predicated on crippling the multimillion-dollar informal trade, specifics of which he could not provide.

“This is an additional strategy being pursued to stop the leakage of refined sugar imported by segments of the manufacturing sector duty-free as raw material for manufactured products but find their way into the retail trade.

“So finally, manufacturers will continue to be allowed to import their requirements, but I believe that with these measures, we will see if not a total elimination in the shortest possible time, we will see a cessation of this insatiable appetite to funnel raw materials into the retail market, on which no tax is paid.”

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING

The statement incurred the wrath of the JMA, which called an emergency conference yesterday to voice its discontent with the oft-repeated unsubstantiated claims by successive ministers of agriculture, as well as stakeholders in the sugar cane industry.

“The JMA is calling on the minister to provide the evidence or retract the allegations within seven days, or the association will have no option but to consider where it goes from here... . 

“We will call a special board meeting to determine what our course of action is ... ,” President Metry Seaga told journalists gathered at its head office at 85A Duke Street.

JMA members, though very supportive of Samuda’s action to curtail any such illegal activity, were particularly incensed by the failure to appreciate the potentially far-reaching negative impact of his uncorroborated claims.

“When broad accusations are hurled around by the minister of industry, our minister, a member of the Government, it is on record, not only to the people of Jamaica, but internationally, that the approximately 200 manufacturers involved in our processed food subsector are guilty of a crime. Our minister would not stand for the defamation of his character, and likewise, this more than 450-member strong association will not stand for the defamation of our industry and our 800,000 workers,” Seaga declared.

... GraceKennedy head concerned

Don Wehby, chief executive officer of the GraceKennedy Group, a founding member of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA), which has business associates all across the globe, expressed concern about the reputational risk factor for local businesses. This, following claims by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries Karl Samuda that manufacturers were involved in the illegal leakage of imported refined sugar into the retail trade.

“The world is so small with globalisation and Internet ... and when you say something in the press, it is read all over the world. So you have to be very careful if you don’t have concrete evidence of what you say.

“If he (Samuda) has information about illegal use by manufacturers, whether within the JMA or not, it is his right as a Jamaican citizen to report it to the police so it can be properly investigated. All of us want a level playing field, so if there are people really doing that, then they shouldn’t be doing business in Jamaica. They should be behind bars,” Wehby told The Gleaner.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com