Belize to convene commission of enquiry into sugar industry
A few days after announcing that it would not be nationalising the sugar industry, the Belize government says it will convene a commission of enquiry into the sector with the aim of determining “a collaborative path for the better interest of the industry”.
The announcement followed discussions with representatives from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, BSCFA, and the Belize Sugar Industries/American Sug ar Refinery, or BSI-ASR.
“Cabinet is resolute that it will not nationalise the sugar industry and will instead try to get the parties on a collaborative path for the better interest of the industry. Having heard from both sides of the issue, the cane farmers and the millers, Cabinet has set up a ministerial subcommittee to meet with BSI and BSCFA to chart a way forward for both sides to resolve their differences,” the Belizean government said last week.
In a subsequent statement, Belize announced the plans for the commission of enquiry, saying it would examine the modernisation of the sugar industry and ways to improve its viability.
Agriculture Minister Jose Abelardo Mai says the enquiry was not meant to investigate the BSI.
“We all listened to the presentation intensely. In my view, it leaves more questions than answers, especially when it comes to the figures, because information is at our fingertips now, so you can do enough research and you can make comparisons,” said Mai.
“But that is why I am even more convinced that the only way to solve this problem it is a holistic commission of enquiry that will begin from the field and end all the way up to the market destination. It cannot be an investigation of ASR-BSI ... it is to analyse and identify areas along the entire chain so that we can have a modern sugar industry act, we can have updated agreements that reflect today’s marketing and today’s cost,” he added.
Chairman of the BSCFA Committee of Management, Alfredo Ortega, urged the government to ensure the commission includes the right professionals as well as financial, marketing and industry experts.
“All of those experts need to be within that committee, so that we can get the real information and the real cost and value of the services being done by BSI,” Ortega told reporters.
Mai said he would not comment on whether or not BSI would give access to its finances during the enquiry, saying it was a question for BSI to answer; but he also noted that the law allows for penalisation for non-compliance with the enquiry.