Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
LAWMAKERS YESTERDAY struggled to maintain their composure after one of their colleagues declared, during a committee meeting, that praedial larcenists have joined the ranks of 166,000 Jamaican farmers.
Member of Parliament for Western St Mary Jolyan Silvera said "criminals" have been registered as farmers under the Government's flagship Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
The Government legislator caused a stir in Gordon House when he claimed the exercise to register farmers under JEEP has been violated as criminals had hijacked the process.
"I can tell you that this JEEP programme also registered thieves. When you are stopping somebody who can show you a legitimate ID (identification card) that they are goat farmers - and dem just tief 20 goats - you cannot do them anything and this has happened in Gayle, St Mary," he divulged to the consternation of his colleagues.
Stressing that his comments were not frivolous, Silvera argued that praedial larcenists have now become "regularised farmers".
"They are now registered farmers, and now they have registered receipt books, so they are registered criminals," he said.
"I think that RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) needs to do an audit of the 166,000 and let us end up with real farmers because he (Silvera) is right. I know the experience he is talking about," said committee Chairman Edmund Bartlett.
The Ministry of Agriculture states that at least 8,000 more farmers are to be registered under JEEP this year. The total number is expected to increase to 180,000 by the end of the year.
The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament had summoned the agriculture ministry and some of its agencies, including RADA, to provide an overview of the work of the ministry and expenditure for the financial year to date.
STANBERRY DEFENDS PROCESS
Responding to the allegation, Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, sought to defend the registration process.
"Our registration is accompanied by verification, so … unless somebody can go and point out somebody's farm and say it is theirs, which is far more difficult. Even if a thief would turn up and register, he certainly would fail when it comes to verification," the permanent secretary said.
According to Stanberry, the IDs are only issued on verification.
However, Silvera questioned whether the antecedents of persons who show up to register as farmers were checked.
"I know as a fact that you have persons who literally don't go out there but yet sign off on everything which they have and these are the officers of RADA. It exists. Let's not deny that," he stressed.
RADA Executive Director Kenneth Fulton told PAAC members that he would conduct his own investigation into the matter.
"We'll try to refine the system to get it as perfect as possible," he said.
RADA officials have been asked to return next week when they will be expected to provide a schedule of real farmers.