The Rice Producers Association (RPA) yesterday flayed Minister of State, Joseph Harmon over his claim that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) was culpable over the depleted PetroCaribe fund from which rice farmers have to be paid.
At a press conference yesterday at the Sleep Inn Hotel, General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj said: “I wish to state clearly that those statements by Mr. Harmon are wholly inaccurate, contemptuous and obviously in keeping with the wider smear campaign by the APNU+AFC Administration.
“The GRDB has no jurisdiction, no authority or no responsibility over the PetroCaribe account/fund and how it is managed. The RPA is of the view that these false statements were designed to fulfill a particular political agenda as it relates to the GRDB. The Government clearly intends to do what it wants with GRDB, as a State regulatory body but the RPA is strongly objecting to the reasons being put into the public domain for doing so.
“It is our contention that GRDB is one of the better run agencies and the RPA is happy to be affiliated with the policy formulation of the GRDB”.
Seeraj, a former PPP/C MP, said that Harmon’s statement on the planned shake-up of the GRDB Board of Directors is also misleading as it gives the impression that the new government was going to fire or abandon a board whose life would expire on June 30, 2015.
“It is unfortunate that the new administration has spent most of its time and energy so far on carrying out a smear campaign rather than putting into action those strategies, projects and initiatives it claims are of better value for the advancement and development of the rice sector and the growth of the economy as a whole.
“The RPA stands proud of its record and the work it continues to do in the interest of farmers and the industry”, he said.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Harmon said that the government is moving to shake up the GRDB which he said would have seen PetroCaribe funds being diverted, now forcing the government to find US$15 million to pay farmers for the next shipment of rice.
He also said that neither of the two agencies affiliated with the rice industry—the GRDB or the RPA—would be getting their hands on the money, but rather a mechanism would be formulated under the Ministry of Finance for the famers to be paid and for the money to be utilised.
“Cabinet was of the view that [given] the additional sums of money we have to be paying on the shipment of rice to Venezuela… we should apply a formula as we did for sugar, which means we will not be putting the monies into the hands of the people who have been there and diverting it into all different types of projects,” Harmon said at his weekly post-cabinet press briefing.
Cabinet on Tuesday was also briefed on the composition of the GRDB and the actual management of the rice sector.
“The industry already has too much at stake… We have to provide this country with careful explanations as to how we deal with the patrimony of the state; how we manage the affairs of the state. I don’t believe we can give any proper explanation to the Guyanese people if we were just to continue pumping money into the hands of people who have been spending it without giving any proper explanation,” Harmon said.
He said the intention was to “get rid of this one and put a new one… We have to get a board that reflects our perception as to what is credible, what is transparent and what is in the best interest of the sector.”
Earlier this month, Harmon had announced that the administration found that the fund was empty. “We actually will have to find somewhere in the vicinity of US$15 million to basically pay our farmers when they ship the next set of rice to Venezuela,” he said.
Under the PetroCaribe agreement, beneficiary nations can tap concessionary oil imports and source funding for long-term loans from a development fund created from delayed payments for oil. Barter arrangements are also possible as is the case with Guyana’s rice.
Harmon had said that the previous government spent more than what was actually pumped into the fund.