The Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary-Agricultural Develop-ment Authority (MMA/ADA) yesterday refuted charges that it was neglectful in the handling of the Brahn sea dam breach, saying that it had kept residents and farmers informed of the situation.
The breach at Brahn resulted in several cash crop farmers, from Profitt to D’Edward Village, in West Berbice, losing millions in crops destroyed by salt water. Some farmers told Stabroek News that they had been “misguided” about the situation and stated that if they were informed their losses would have been minimised.
However, in a statement in response to the report, MMA General Manager Aubrey Charles noted that when the first signs of the problem surfaced in September, the MMA and the Ministry of Agriculture alerted the Public Works Ministry of their concerns. The Works Ministry is responsible for sea defence works. He said following interactions between Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud and Works Minister Robeson Benn, contractor BK International was engaged to work in the area. At October 14, BK reported the completion of the first set of works and as a result the intrusion of salt water into the drainage system was stopped.
However, Charles said the spring tides in early November caused some damage in the area again, necessitating more work by BK. At a meeting at Kingelly on November 13, Charles said the company reported that the situation was under control. Unfortunately, he added, the December spring tides again caused difficulties, which required further work over the last week. “Last word from them this morning to me is that they have brought the situation under control again,” he said. Charles said the MMA categorically rejected any neglect in the case, noting that it kept residents and farmers abreast of the situation at all times through the Agriculture Ministry extension staff in the region and the farmers union. He added “…we are aware they were alerting those farmers who were likely to be affected.” He further said the MMA in a media release issued last week had also referred to the issue as a major concern. “On top of that, one can imagine the extra work that we have been doing to try and confine the affected areas and drain the system,” he said.
In fairness to the Works Ministry, Charles added that the Brahn to No. 40 village is “a very high risk area that had major problems before, when the entire dam had to be retired.” Additionally, he said those farmers claiming losses received help from the Agriculture Ministry, whose officers were constantly advising and assisting them, long before their plight was publicised.
In relation to yesterday’s news item which carried the strapline that farmers had accused the MMA of neglect, the MMA release said “As to whether these were the farmers’ words or those of the Stabroek News’ we are not sure. Either way, the normal expectation is that the editor or the by-lined reporter, would have checked with the MMA about the matter. But then again, it just might have been in their scheme of things to do so; MMA, and it would appear the Ministry of Agriculture is good game for these negative stories”.
Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud in a comment said there was no basis to the suggestion that the two agencies are being targeted for negative stories. He noted that just on December 8th a news item was carried on the MMA with the headline `Region 5 on flooding stand-by – Gajraj’ which reported in the first paragraph the MMA saying that all systems were in place to prevent or minimize flooding. Persaud said the reporter in question had relied on the original MMA statement and had nothing to do with the headline or strapline. The strapline on neglect related to the concerns by farmers that they were not properly advised that salt water intrusion was continuing.