Fri | Aug 17, 2018

'This can't work' - Pandohie cites faults in agricultural authority structure

Published:Monday | May 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Christopher Gentles (left), chairman of the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), takes a break from the proceedings to confer with Richard Pandohie (centre), chief executive officer of the SEPROD Group of Companies, and Stephen Black, CIB board member, during Saturday’s annual general meeting at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston. Pandohie, who resigned as chairman of the JACRA Board, told farmers that the legislation governing it is in need of a comprehensive overhaul, in order for it to work. Black remains a board member.

The Government's much-touted Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), the umbrella organisation under which all former crop commodity services, with the exception of banana, are being subsumed, has no chance of working, according to Richard Pandohie, chief executive officer of the Seprod Group of Companies.

"JACRA needs to be revisited. There are substantial gaps in the conceptualisation and implementation plan. This thing cannot work in its current form," the businessman told Saturday's annual general meeting of the Coconut Industry Board, while making it clear he was expressing his personal opinion.

However, Pandohie, who used the event at the Jamaica Conference Centre to announce he had resigned as chairman of JACRA a week ago, said he had arrived at his view after careful study of the plan for implementing JACRA.

Pandohie said that while JACRA, a conditionality of Jamaica's precautionary standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is conceptually sound, there are fundamental, inherent flaws in the implementation process which are at variance with its intended positive outcomes.

"Every agricultural product has been declining, bar none, and we need to get back to a stage to create an industry with a climate where you can [secure] investment and get growth going again. I think everybody is aligned that way, [but] the problem with Jamaica is that everybody knows what to do, but nobody can get it going," the business executive admitted.

 

... Business groups to speak out on JACRA

After careful and detailed study of the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), standard-bearers in the business community have reportedly come to the shared conclusion that there are substantial gaps in the conceptualisation and implementation plan, which make the authority impractical.

As a result, the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Jamaica Exporters' Association, and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, which are all in agreement with the Coconut Industry Board on the matter, intend to let their voices be heard.

"I am saying to you that the consultations are happening, and I expect a serious revisiting of a number of the things that are announced," Seprod Group CEO Richard Pandohie assured coconut farmers during Saturday's annual general meeting of the Coconut Industry Board.

Pandohie was responding to concerns raised by Roger Turner, managing director of Tulloch Estates, that the draconian and invasive features of JACRA, which would regulate the successor coconut growers' commercial entity, would reduce independent farmers to near serfdom.

In addition to having to apply for a licence to JACRA to conduct every aspect of business they now do, the farmers, exporters and processors and all other persons involved in the coconut business would be additionally burdened by taxes to fund the authority's operations and pay staff on an ongoing basis.

JACRA would dictate sales prices for coconut, oil, water, as well as quote export quotas for these and other value-added products, which Turner argued against.

"Why is this happening? Are we being subservient to JACRA? Not only subservient, but JACRA will charge us a tax on our oil, will charge us a tax for growing trees, will want to come into our establishments to see how many people are in our households. Come into our business places to look at our financial records," Turner said.

Under JACRA, coconut farmers who choose not to register with the authority, opting to operate on their own and outside its aegis, can be fined up to $3 million or be imprisoned for up to 12 months, upon conviction.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com