Sep 27, 2018 News
In 2014, the previous administration managed to clinch a major rice market in Panama, under a government to government arrangement.
Overseeing the shipments for Guyana was the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
With increasing yields, and Panama demanding packaged white rice, Guyana was assured of better-than-normal prices- in fact prices were said to be about 30 percent more.
A number of local millers were involved in the deal.
For this year alone, Guyana reportedly shipped over 50,000 tonnes to that market.
In Panama, there were rejections of the deal in some political quarters with complaints that local suppliers were sidelined.
This past two months, the shipments ran into trouble after Panamanian authorities discovered samples that they said were not in keeping with the contract arrangements.
What started off as two containers being rejected has now ended up as more than 20 containers in the last six weeks or so not being accepted.
Yesterday, General Manager of the GRDB, Nizam Hassan, disclosed that they are looking into reports of some bags of rice in containers shipped to Panama not meeting the requirements.
He said that information is now being gathered and it is too early to say what exactly transpired.
Hassan disclosed also that one miller, who has rice mills in Essequibo and West Demerara, will not be allowed to participate in the deal until there are clarifications about what transpired.
The rejection of the containers would be a hard blow for the rice industry which has been depending on the Panamanian market for pushing up prices and reduce any surpluses on the market.
Panama was said to be the most lucrative of markets after the loss of the Venezuelan one in 2015.
Yesterday, Dr. Turhane Doerga, Chief Executive Officer of the Alesie Group of Companies, was highly critical of GRDB.
He pointed to the checks that have to be carried out before the containers are loaded and shipped.
He said that the poor quality rice found in Panama may have been a shipment returned from Trinidad.
“We have information that containers with parboiled rice were shipped a few months ago to Trinidad and were rejected because of poor or bad quality…and came back to Guyana.”
Doerga questioned how the containers could have left Guyana for Panama without collusion from GRDB.
“This is a very serious issue that has implications for our market. We want the Panamanians to know we have taken actions not to have a repeat and that we can be banked on.”
He said that the Panamanian market has the possibility of yielding farmers a minimum of $4,000 per bag, with decent margins for the millers.
“The elephant in the room is that the rice has to be graded by the GRDB before it is shipped. The conclusion is that it all was authorised by GRDB and the management. This is pointing to massive corruption and we demand an immediate investigation. The blame has to be laid squarely at the feet of the GRDB board and the Ministry of Agriculture. The Minister and the board should resign forthwith.”
According to the miller, the question should be asked how long the “racket” has been going one.
“This rice is bought by the government of Panama to feed the less fortunate in their country.” According to the miller, the issue of the rice deal with Guyana has become an election issue now in that Spanish-speaking country.
“The situation in Guyana is very clear. This is not a few bags but thousands of bags. It cannot be swept under the carpet. The GRDB top bracket is therefore part and parcel of this and must be fired to convince Panama that this will not happen again.”
Doerga said that it is the farmers who suffer. Already, the payments by Panama have been delayed.
He said that Panama situation is known to all the millers but there is fear over the repercussions.
“One would expect the farmers association to create havoc given thus situation however there is a deafening silence. The farmer is toiling everyday to make ends meet and expects those who they choose to represent them properly.”
According to Doerga, before rice is shipped out, the GRDB regional officer has to issue a certificate and other documents.
Guyana exported some 540,000 tonnes of rice for 2017, which saw its highest numbers since 2015 when a total of 535,000 tonnes were recorded.
Along with gold, rice has surpassed sugar in terms of foreign exchange earned from exports.
The issue of the problems with the shipment to Panama was being debated hotly by millers, farmers and other yesterday.
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