Jamaica sold short with sugar deal, says Clarke
(Jamaica Observer) Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke on Wednesday accused the former Jamaica Labour Party Government (JLP) of selling the country short in the divesting of three of the five state-owned sugar estates to Chinese company Complant International two years ago, with arrangements for tax waivers lasting up to 20 years, among other concessions. In 2010, the Cabinet of the former JLP Administration gave approval for final negotiations to begin with Complant to acquire the Frome, Westmoreland; Monymusk, Clarendon; and Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, estates, after it trumped three other business interests who had also thrown their hats in the ring to acquire the entities with a J$774-million offer. Then agriculture minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, said that with the approval the way had been cleared for the finalisation of negotiations and specific agreements as it related to the three estates.
On Wednesday, Clarke in making public the contents of a letter dated July 2010 and addressed to the Board of Directors of Complant International in Beijing China, said while the present Government was happy about the divestment, the country stood to gain little from the sale. The letter, signed by then Minister of Finance Audley Shaw, was copied to Aubyn Hill who led the divestment process.
“As much as we have been able to divest those sugar estates, having this document come to hand… I said to myself, I wonder [if] we will ever be able to get anything which will be of benefit to the country away from some employment,” Clarke said yesterday to sounds of dismay from Government members of the House, with some muttering that “Cabinet did not know about that”. The minister was making his contribution to the 2012/13 Budget Debate. According to the letter, the agreement involved relief from corporate income tax for 20 years, effective on the commencement of operations of COMPLANT and or its subsidiaries in Jamaica, with an option to apply for renewal. It said if COMPLANT substantially complied with all its obligations under the agreement in all material respects, its application for renewal would not be withheld.