MRL rice row…
– milling licences suspended
By Leonard Gildarie
Government has secured injunctions against owners of Mahaicony Rice Limited (MRL) barring them from leaving the country until millions of dollars in farmers’ debts have been paid off.
Across the country, the embattled rice milling chain is said to owe over $100M to farmers who have supplied them with paddy months ago, an official of the regulators of the industry, Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) said yesterday.
Last week, a number of the Essequibo farmers picketed the Essequibo offices of GRDB calling for payments and for legal action against Jai Beni, the owner of MRL.
In the case of Essequibo, MRL is said to owe around $30M to around 30 farmers.
During an emergency meeting between farmers and Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud at the Ministry’s offices yesterday, it was disclosed that MRL had pinpointed Arnold Sankar, a miller to purchase paddy on their behalf.
However, MRL has angered farmers by now claiming that it has no such arrangements with Sankar.
At the meeting with the farmers were Minister Robert Persaud, GRDB’s General Manager, Jagnarine Singh and Dharamkumar Seeraj, General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA).
At least two farmers are owed in excess of $4M each and one financial institution has moved to the courts to confiscate two properties belonging to MRL, including one at Lesbeholden, Black Bush Polder.
It has now been agreed that the RPA, through a special fund, will help to pay off farmers and the association will be authorized by these same farmers to take court action to recoup the monies owed.
MRL, the Minister said, is “harmful to the rice trade” of Guyana.
GRDB has also suspended the operating and trading licences of MRL with immediate effect.
MRL has had a long running battle with government over payments to farmers.
At one time, an estimated 40% of paddy purchases had been controlled by MRL and its string of mills, stretching from Berbice to Essequibo.
Jai Beni had been ordered to meet with government earlier this year and it was agreed that the company would be allowed to resume operations once payments have been made.
According to the GRDB’s General Manager, government’s role has taken on more of a regulatory one with several legislations passed to protect farmers.
In addition to shortening the number of days that millers can pay farmers, new legislations have added sections that allow farmers to receive interest on late payments.
It also allows for operating licences to be suspended.
According to the Minister, MRL and Jai Beni, because of past track records, have not proven that they are “fit” to operate in Guyana.
Farmers also complained yesterday of not being allowed by millers to see the grading of the paddy which determines the prices.
Some mills, to escape the watchful eyes of the GRDB staff, would wait until they leave at the end of the day, to make purchases.
GRDB has now mandated officers to be present at the mills to monitor operations around the clock and more staff will be hired to boost the checks.
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