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Standoff deepens between coconut growers, agriculture ministry

Published:Monday | May 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture Karl Samuda.
An obviously peeved Granville March listening to Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda during Saturday’s Coconut Industry Board annual general meeting.

Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda on Saturday admitted to coconut growers that the Government would be going after the $5 billion held in trust on their behalf by the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) to bolster its coffers.

He used the annual general meeting at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston to appeal to coconut growers from across the country to persuade the board of directors that it was in their best interest to hand over the money.

"Given the fact that there are enormous pressures to underwrite a number of activities that we have to underwrite to run the country as a government, we have been in dialogue with your association, with your board, to say that portion, the $5 billion, that can be contributed towards defraying the immediate expense of the Government should be identified after careful study and it must be cast against the background of a plan for the development of the industry," the minister explained.

"Some have gone about the place telling people that the Government wants to take away the shares and leave them with nothing and, therefore, they won't have anything to develop the industry with; that's nonsense."

Samuda insisted that promulgation of the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) - the umbrella agency for regulating the coconut, cocoa, coffee, turmeric, pimento, ginger and nutmeg industries - would facilitate the much-needed expansion of the coconut sector. However, this was dependent on the board providing a long-overdue business plan.

"You give the Government a proper plan on the way forward that is self-sustainable and you will have all the permission you need and you can act immediately, with no restrictions of that kind in the future, but I need to have that plan. The Government needs to have that plan, the people of Jamaica need to have that plan, because this Government is a responsible government that shall adhere to proper fiduciary practices and responsibilities," added minister Samuda.




However, CIB director Granville Marsh referenced the minutes of the 2016 annual general meeting that the board had, in fact, presented a plan for acquiring the 1,000-acre Water Valley property in St Mary on which it proposed to establish an integrated coconut propagation/growing and processing facility.

In fact, the proposal had been received by Samuda, who is on record as saying he has no intention of signing off on the deal until his demands are met.

In an earlier interview with The Gleaner, Samuda had said, "We have no fundamental disagreement with the acquisition of Water Valley, but it would not be at this stage prudent to engage a process on the strength of a management structure that would no longer obtain in a matter of weeks. So that when JACRA comes into force, anything to do with the development of the Coconut Industry Board, any decision, will reside in the minister, and that's me. I want to be quite satisfied that we have looked at it carefully and that it will in no way compromise what is planned under JACRA, moving forward."

... It's a lazy way of becoming healthy, Samuda tells board members

Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, has been locked in a battle of wills with the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), which has consistently articulated its willingness to mortgage some of its shares to finance further expansion.

The directors have resisted all attempts by successive administrations to wrest from their stewardship the money held in trust on their behalf, to fund the expansion Samuda claims will be better administered by the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority. This pronouncement did little to encourage a change of stance.

"What we are saying is that whatever residual amount of money is left over, if anything, it must be placed in the Consolidated Fund of the Government, but all of that money will be ring-fenced for the coconut industry, so if your plan don't work, there is a position on which you can fall back. It is as simple as that; there is nothing complicated about that," Samuda told coconut growers at the annual general meeting at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston last Saturday.

"We are laying out a strategy that gives you security in knowing that whatever instrument you use, whatever method you use to grow your industry, instead of sitting back and relying on dividends from shares, there must [be] an additional strategy. Lying back and relying on shares is really the lazy way of becoming healthy, and it is a method that is probably not fully sustainable."

He continued, "When you have done that and you lay the industry on a firm footing, then you can stand on your own and don't have to rely on shares handed to you each month to pay your expenses, that's all we are saying. We're saying bring your industry into the modern era, bring your industry into the sensible business approach, and the Government stands ready to partner with you on this."