Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A claim made by Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke that Jamaica has incurred a $35 million debt for the divestment of its sugar assets, has been flatly denied by former minister Dr. Christopher Tufton.
Tufton told The Gleaner today that the cost incurred was not to divest the sugar assets of government.
"It was primarily to operate the loss-making entities, which would be the five government-owned assets. The cost of divestment would have been a fraction and a very small fraction of that," Tufton said.
On Tuesday, Clarke, in a statement to Parliament, suggested that the divestment costs appeared to have contradicted a pronouncement made by Tufton when he was minister.
"This honourable House will recall that in response to questions posed to the former minister of agriculture, it was repeatedly confirmed that the operations of the GOJ sugar estates whilst be prepared for privatisation would not be a charge on the public purse," Clarke recalled.
Tufton said "the minister is unfair because the minister should have made a clear distinction between the divestment cost and the operations of these entities."
He said the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration inherited $20 billion in debt and that the remaining $15 billion was incurred while operating the estates.
He said the former administration could not have shut down the industry while it packaged the assets for divestment, arguing that it would have resulted in dire-economic woes for people who depend on the sector for employment.
"I think the end of the process we have seen a lot more positives than negative and it would be unfortunate for the Government to send more time suggesting or implying that this was a deal gone sour because nothing is further from the truth," Tufton said.
He added: "I am proud to say that the Jamaica Labour Party government has been able to rescue would surely be a dying industry, if it had continued on the path on which we saw it when we went there."