It amazes me to see how government is bailing out rice millers with rice farmers’ paddy payments, this is an ongoing feature since the Jagdeo administration in 2006. I can remember when Cheddi was alive and being the Executive President of Guyana, he never bailed out any rice millers. At one time a rice miller at Vilvoorden on the Essequibo Coast had owed farmers large sums of money for years and Cheddi sent the late Fazal Ali to meet with the owner so they could be paid.
I was on that team with the late Fazal Ali, the General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association (RPA). We were able to negotiate payments for some 200 rice farmers who were owed. However, the miller was unable to pay the farmers and his mills were sold. In the agreement of sale the owner agreed that from the sale, the outstanding payment to farmers would be honoured before the mills were transferred to the new owner.
I also remember under the Jagdeo administration, rice millers received debt write-offs in billions of dollars for owing the government-owned banks which had caused the collapse of GNCB, the only farmers’ bank. Today, we are witnessing another replay of these millers playing dead so they can continue to receive bailouts while they are extending their operations. These millers get away with much. They offer crummy prices on farmers’ paddy and then have the gall to add interest whenever they buy fertilizers from them.
The debt write-offs began nearly decades ago and the government and the ministry of agriculture still think that the chief weapon in quelling this slow-motion panic and loss of confidence is to continue bailing them out with farmers’ money. Yet it is this very policy –that is perpetuating the crisis and undermining our economy. Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly that I am not against rice farmers being paid for their produce but I do not believe that is the government’s duty to bail out millers.
I personally think the rice farmers need more subsidies on fertilizers, fuel, spare parts, duty-free concessions on agriculture machinery, mechanical pumps to pump water in their fields, combines, tractors etc. etc. rather than bailing out rice millers. Farmers are toiling night and day under the hot sun to produce paddy which has reach a record breaking figure of 633,000 tonnes of rice, surpassing last year’s target. Another thing is to pay the farmers production bonuses for their hard work so they can produce more.