‘Situation is very sad and embarrassing’ – GRDB General Manager
More farmers were yesterday turned away from a Berbice bank when they went there with invalid cheques purportedly issued by Mahaicony Rice Limited.
General Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board, Jagnarine Singh, told the media that he has received more complaints from farmers in Berbice.
While the situation is ‘very sad’, Singh said, there is little that the GRDB can do, since farmers are not willing to ventilate the matter.
The Rice Development Board has volunteered to pay the legal fees for farmers who are desirous of taking the company to court, but Singh said yesterday that farmers are not coming forward to support such an initiative.
While MRL may have faced some financial difficulties, it is not an excuse, Singh noted, for the mill to issue invalid cheques to farmers. “The situation is embarrassing.”
The present situation, he said, will create some problems for the industry, as farmers have not been able to plant the acreages they had anticipated.
“Some of them did not get to buy the inputs on time, so they will lose on the yield.”
Singh added that he cannot understand why a company that is making much money from the industry cannot afford to pay farmers.
“It is really touching to see that, after working so hard, farmers have got to struggle even harder to collect their money.”
The GRDB has a mandate to ensure that all players in the sector confirm to the rice legislation.
The legislation states that the GRDB was established and cannot at anytime knowingly turn a blind eye to activities not confirming with the law.
However, yesterday Singh said that while there is legislation, there are some loopholes and, as such, there is need to go back to the drawing board to legislate.
“The Act is only for the public service part, but the Government does not regulate the business aspect of the agreement,” Singh said.
In this particular case, Singh said, the police are not taking the matter seriously. They should have acted already and arrested the person who signed off the illegal cheques.
The rice company is, however, claiming that its inability to pay the farmers stems from the suspension of the company’s export licenses some months ago by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud and the GRDB.
The company is now saying that, since that suspension was lifted, it is now attempting to ship rice that was scheduled to be exported some months ago.
But even as GRDB seeks to have farmers paid for paddy supplied to the mill during the first crop, the same farmers are still taking their produce from the second crop to the very factory.
Two Fridays ago, 18 farmers were turned away by commercial banks in Berbice after they were issued with ‘bounced’ cheques from MRL.
The farmers went to a Rose Hall, Corentyne bank and were told that only one payment each would be made to them, although they had several cheques.
The total value of the cheques that were not honoured was $26,328,186.
One farmer had in his position 29 cheques which could not be encashed.
The Ministry of Agriculture has since issued a statement saying that attempts by the GRDB to enforce the laws and regulations of the rice industry, to protect the farmers, are met with frivolous court challenges.
In what can be seen as a pre-emptive move by MRL and an effort to further frustrate any action by the relevant agency to ensure farmers are paid on time, the GRDB was recently served with a notice of legal action by MRL, claiming loss of income in the earlier case, the release stated.
MRL is the largest single operator in the industry. (Tusika Martin)
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