September 29, 2016

Agriculture Minister defends Jamaica-Guyana rice deal

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder

The reportedly “corrupt contract” signed by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and the Jamaican Rice Milling Company has been defended by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder.

Holder, in an interview with this publication on Wednesday, refuted the claims of RPA Action Committee Co-Chairman, Dr Turhane Doerga, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and senior official of Alesie Rice Company, who posited that the Minister’s “incompetence” warrants his dismissal.

“Everybody’s calling for resignations; what you want me to do, resign?” questioned the Minister.

RPA Action Committee Co-Chairman, Dr Turhane Doerga

RPA Action Committee Co-Chairman, Dr Turhane Doerga

“He’s asking for the Board to resign; he’s asking for the General Manager to resign; he’s asking for me to resign,” Holder related.

The Agriculture Minister defended the GRDB’s handling of the contract, noting that the deal could be justified when one considered the pricing structure that was achieved.

“What’s basically happening is the millers sell rice…when the miller is going out and making deals – let’s say a miller sells rice for US$420 per tonne, he comes to Rice Board and says he selling it for US$380 a tonne, but the Rice Board is saying that this is not good…If you are selling rice for US$380 a tonne, the Rice Board is saying we can sell that rice to Jamaica for $400 a tonne that is guaranteed to the farmer.”

GRDB General Manager Nizam Hassan

GRDB General Manager Nizam Hassan

When questioned about the supposed US$75 “in-between mark” per metric tonne that will likely benefit the broker rather than the farmers, Holder said he was unaware of what Doerga is saying.

“I have absolutely no clue what he’s talking about, that makes no sense to me,” the Minister stressed.

When Guyana Times contacted GRDB General Manager Nizam Hassan on Wednesday, he said that this publication would have to contact his office at a later date.

The Government, through the GRDB, inked the deal between the Jamaican Rice Milling Company on March 1, 2016, for the purchase of 40,000 metric tonnes per annum. The deal has a life span of three years and can be reviewed every quarter.

The deal gives the buyer the option to purchase 10,000 metric tonnes per quarter and it was agreed that any unused portion could be taken up by another buyer so designated to work with the GRDB in Jamaica.

Dr Doerga in an interview with this newspaper on Tuesday described the recent rice deal as an example of “the most disgusting corruption going on in the agriculture sector”.

“When you look at the price bracket, you will see that they are selling to Jamaica for US$400 but anybody who wants to sell there has to sell minimum 1500 metric tonnes at US$475… so the US$75 per metric tonne is what the boys will be splitting among each other,” he explained.

He further pointed out that “75x 80,000×3” equates to US$18 million that will be allocated to “the boys” and not rice farmers who have been facing hardships in the deteriorating rice industry.

He noted that there should have been extensive consultations with millers before the deal was inked. Doerga further alleged that the deal was not authorised by the GRDB Board and, as such, could be deemed “illegal”.

This publication understands that some Board members reportedly questioned the deal since they were not consulted about the contract’s signing. Additionally, another Board member said they (the Board) were “not going to take responsibility” for the deal being inked.

Doerga is of the opinion that the Government, through the GRDB, is “robbing farmers”.

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