Praedial Larceny Prevention Unit charged with arresting farm theft
Policymakers are in agreement about the need for the strengthening of the Praedial Larceny (Prevention) Act to more effectively punish persons who engage in the theft and sale of farm produce.
Emboldened by weaknesses in this piece of legislation, thieves and their cronies in this well-organised and sophisticated criminal value chain have been wreaking havoc on the livelihood of farmers and fisherfolk across Jamaica.
"If we were to rely solely on the Praedial Larceny (Prevention) Act itself, we would not have prosecuted as many persons because that act makes provisions for persons to be caught in the act itself. Outside of that, you would need eyewitness statements and, as you know, many persons are not going to come forward with the information," Deputy Superintendent (DSP) of Police Kevin Francis told The Gleaner last Tuesday.
Francis, who heads the five-member team in the Praedial Larceny Prevention Unit of
the Ministry of Industry Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, explained that even though arresting farm theft is their mandate, his unit responds to other acts of criminality.
"While we are out there, we will not be seeing persons committing other offences and turn a blind eye because we only focus on praedial larceny. So, as a result, during our operations, other offences have been detected and they are so prosecuted," he explained.
In January 2014, the Economy and Production Committee of Parliament, chaired by Karl Samuda, called for strengthening of the law to, among other things, deal effectively with persons involved in the theft of farm produce.
He was supported by then Opposition spokespersons on agriculture J.C. Hutchinson, who is now minister without portfolio in the agriculture ministry.
The committee's decision followed a motion brought by Hutchinson, calling for improved monitoring and strengthening of the legislation, arguing that most of the burden of proof seemed to be on the farmer. He called for this pressure to be put instead on the end user of the stolen produce.
Committee chairman Karl Samuda suggested: "I think we have enough to put together a report to call on the Parliament to recommend that action be taken to amend the existing legislation to give it more teeth, to strengthen the collaboration between other agencies of Government, most importantly, the police and the Trade Board, and to provide financial resources in order to make it possible for the Ministry of Agriculture to assist in apprehending and bringing to book those persons engaged in praedial larceny at whatever level."
The committee also proposed that end users who fail to produce invoices for the goods in their possession be fined up to $1 million, up from the $250,000 allowed under the law.