Chicken back imports under fire
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should stop with immediate effect the issuance of chicken back and neck import permits under current arrangements, the Integrity Commission has recommended in a damning report.
The report, tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, hinted at and duty evasion, as well as glaring instances of lack of transparency and fairness in the issuance of import permits by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for chicken back and chicken neck.
The Integrity Commission lashed the ministry for giving preferential treatment to applicants on the basis of prior importation history and suggested that the integrity of the award process was compromised and hindered competition.
Jamaica imports around US$25 million worth of chicken back and chicken neck each year.
According to the Integrity Commission, of the 116 importers of chicken back and neck, during the period 2006-2013, Spanish Grain Store, Transtrading Limited, Master Mac Limited, Triple M Ltd, Chris Ryon, Bran Lue Import Limited, Lillan Limited imported 46 per cent of all the chicken neck and chicken back.
The Integrity Commission found that the agriculture ministry undertakes no formal due diligence in order to determine the legitimacy and authenticity of the information submitted by applicants.
But the commission said it was informed by Sandor Pike, a former director of the agricultural services unit, that there were instances in which permit holders for the importation of chicken back and neck were importing leg quarters instead of back.
“The OCG was also advised of a practice where companies legitimately receive import permits for chicken back and convert these benefits to other imports,” the report further stated.
Amid the growing concern, it was revealed that only five per cent of the containers containing imported chicken back and neck are inspected by the Jamaica Customs Department. The commission stated that the low threshold was “woefully inadequate”.
During the period 2006 to 2007, Roger Clarke, then agriculture minister, approved 791 full container loads of chicken back, 143 container loads of chicken neck, and two full container loads of chicken leg quarters.
For the period 2007-2011, Dr Christopher Tufton gave the green light for the importation of 1,839 full container loads of chicken back and 605 full container loads of chicken neck.
For the period July-December 2011, Robert Montague, approved the importation of 803 full container loads of chicken back and 220 full container loads of chicken neck.
And for October-November 2013, Pike signed letters of request for the importation of 272 full container loads of chicken back and 42 containers of chicken neck.
The Seymour Panton-led commission said it was of the view that the discretionary power accorded to the minister for the issuance of import permits, in the absence of adequate checks and balances, is a mechanism that has the potential of facilitating corruption.
It wants the Government to develop a formal policy that will ensure transparency and accountability in the receipt and processing of applications, as well as merit and integrity in the issuance of permits/licences for the importation of all animal products.
The Integrity Commission has also urged the Government to develop the necessary administrative structures that will facilitate an equitable process for all applicants.