Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Samuda heads to court over Coconut Industry Board's Seprod shares

Published:Tuesday | November 21, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Karl Samuda
Coconut Industry Board director, Granville Marsh (left), responds to a question from a member of the board during a recent meeting in Port Maria, St Mary, while a pensive Frank Phipps, QC (second left) pays keen attention.
1
2

"We would not seek a battle as we are. Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it."

This was the response from King Henry to French messenger Montjoy at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 to be delivered to his master, as recounted in Shakespeare's play Henry V, and was reprised on Friday by Granville Marsh, a longstanding director of the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) and intended for the ears of Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.

Marsh made the statement upon learning that the minister had disclosed his intention to head to court in an effort to get the CIB to surrender more than $4 billion to the coffers of Central Government, on the grounds that as a statutory body, the money was not theirs but rightfully the State's to use as it sees fit.

"Mek him take us to court, because we know where we stand. Our attorneys have advised us already," Marsh told The Gleaner on Friday, a day after Samuda disclosed that he was initiating court proceedings so the Government could get its hands on the money accrued from dividends in Seprod (Soap and Edible Products) in which the CIB is a major shareholder.

"We're no longer in negotiation, because we have reached a stage now where only a legal determination will lead us forward with this issue. So it will be handed over to the attorney general to guide in the way forward," Samuda told The Gleaner.

Talks for an amicable solution had been under way since May, when the minister told coconut growers at their annual general meeting that the State was legally entitled to the money, since their organisation is a statutory body and, therefore, answerable to the Government, through the portfolio ministry.

 

NOT ONE PENNY FROM GOVERNMENT

 

Marsh, the longest-serving of five directors appointed by coconut growers to the nine-member board, had argued then that since its inception in 1945, the CIB had never received "one penny" in government subvention.

"He (Samuda) is stifling development of the parish, industry and the entire country by stopping us from planting acres and acres of coconut," the director explained, pointing out that Samuda had failed to grant approval for the sale of the Water Valley property in St Mary. The acquisition and development of that 1,000-acre property is pivotal to the comprehensive national development strategy submitted to the minister, Marsh noted.

"We have looked at the plan. The plan in and of itself is something we could support, and it was the understanding that when the plan was submitted, the way forward would include the Coconut Industry Board passing over to Central Government some of the reserves that they have built up, because the issue is a very controversial one as to who owns the shares that are at Seprod," Samuda said.

... Coconut growers feel betrayed by minister

Coconut growers say the refusal of Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, to respond in a timely manner regarding the acquisition of the Water Valley property in St Mary might have already cost them dearly.

According to Granville Marsh, a longstanding director of the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), they feel betrayed by the minister's handling of the situation.

"We had sent a letter to him for him to just sign off on it because he had said to us verbally, 'Yeah, man, go ahead and buy the property' last year some time. And then, after the negotiations and all of that took place, we send the letter to him. To this day, he has not signed the letter, so we couldn't acquire Water Valley."

The decision to keep the minister abreast of their long-term plans was a matter of courtesy that has now backfired, the director explained, since the board has conducted at least one major business deal, without the agriculture minister's consent or knowledge.

"Precedent had been set where we bought a property already and never go to nuh minister for permission, but out of decency we decide to go to him. We had bought a property up in Esher (St Mary) where we have one of our seed gardens. This time, some of the directors say, let us make him sign off on it and then he said, "Oh, yeah, you have to get my permission" but in truth and in fact, there was a precedent," said Marsh.

"We had it in our budget and because it's more than $100 million we spending, we say, let us bring the minister into it, but him adamant that a his money, and the money don't belong to him."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com