The Region Six Chairman, David Armogan, has chastised the Regional Executive Officer, Kim Williams-Stephens, and the Superintendent of Works based at Whim, for dragging their feet on the affairs of the rice industry in Region Six.
Armogan blasted the two officials and accused them of mismanaging the system. Their lackluster approach to the current “crisis” in the rice sector in Berbice is putting pressure on the rice farmers, Armogan said, recently.
His statements were made at a press briefing yesterday at his office in New Amsterdam.
In the last quarter of 2019, issues had arisen over the shortage of finances at the region to purchase fuel to work the irrigation pumps at the Manarabisi and Black Bush Polder farming areas.
But while Armogan said it is a developing crisis, Williams-Stephens had said there is enough fuel to last. However, over the past few days farmers were once again caught in the middle and their crops are suffering.
According to Armogan, when the issues developed last year, he had insisted on his knowledge of the system and how it works.
“I know the capacity of these pumps and if you are pumping at full capacity (five pumps), you will be burning almost 1200 gallons of fuel in the 24 hours at Black Bush Polder and about 600 gallons for 24 hours at Manarabisi, so it is quite a lot of fuel that has to be used”.
The REO and the Superintendent of Works who is stationed at Whim had insisted that there is enough money and there is enough fuel to last until the end of the year. They had anticipated that monies would be released in January to buy fuel so we can continue to pump water to the farmers. Knowing what he knows, Armogan said he spoke with the REO and the Works Superintendent and tried to “make them understand” that funds are needed to purchase fuel but “they keep insisting that there is enough fuel to last”.
It was then that he made the decision to write President David Granger who “quickly responded to me,” he said.
A letter was sent from him to the Ministry of Finance and when the Ministry responded to assist “the REO and the Superintendent insisted that there were no additional needs to buy fuel” since what they had would last.
This decision, Armogan said, has now put the farmers in a difficult position because the fuel is limited, and the monies released by the Ministry of Finance has not been used to purchase more fuel.
The Chairman stated that he had another discussion with the REO and the Works Superintendent to explain to them that monies ($30 million) that he had requested from the President to help “would not even be adequate to run our pumps. So I don’t know how they are doing these calculations.”
“I do not understand how these pumps will be working but I gather that they believe that if you work two pumps at Black Bush and one at Manarabisi that would be enough for the farmers.
They do not understand the intricate details of the industry, I don’t think they have a good idea of what is happening in the rice sector, in fact I believe they have very limited knowledge of what is taking place in the rice sector,” he stressed.
Kaieteur News understands that the $30 million was released by the Ministry of Finance last year. Armogan has said that he was under the impression that fuel would have been bought “towards the end of December or the first week in January” so that there would be enough fuel.
“Unfortunately, what has taken place is that they have waited until now when the fuel has almost run out of these pump stations. As I speak, only yesterday (Monday), they took in 500 gallons of fuel at Manarabisi and (yesterday), the Black Bush pumps will be cut off, they are operating two pumps which is inadequate to supply the roadside farmers with water,” Armogan said.
The Chairman is contending that fuel should be taken to the farmers in a timely manner because “you have to get water in time”. He stressed that the delays have cause major problems for rice farmers and is crippling the rice sector in the region.
“I don’t know if it’s a deliberate attempt to frustrate the rice industry or people do not understand what they are doing to ensure that the water keeps flowing into these different areas”, he said. Armogan has said that the roadside farmers are those that are mostly affected presently and with them farming on almost 1800 acres, Black Bush Polder has about 1600 acres.
“Unless we get all these five pumps running almost immediately a lot of people will begin to lose their rice crop in the front land areas and that is a significant loss. If you know how farmers are operating from crop to crop because the money, they are making is not enough to take them for two-three years.
So, if they run into problems in one crop, they find difficulties with going back into the other crop,” he disclosed.
Armogan however, while empathizing with the farmers pointed out that although himself and the Vice Chairman are “in this position in the region, we do not control the money, the money is being controlled by the REO and she is taking advice from the Superintendent of works.”
He noted that when he tries to engage with Stephens she says to him that she has to consult with (the Superintendent) and when he engages with him he refers him to the REO.
“So I am getting caught between this Superintendent responsible at Whim and who should be gauging as to how fuel should be diverted into these different areas. He is giving her advice and she is not listening to us.
“So as of now, if there is a crisis in the rice industry, the blame has to be put squarely at the feet of the REO and the Superintendent because they have mismanaged the system in such a way that even though the money was provided by the government they have failed to ensure that enough fuel are in those pumps so that we can pump continuously”.
He is pleading with farmers to understand that it is the REO that controls the “purse” and “she determines when money must be spent and how money must be spent”.
Armogan is of the belief that the two officials are putting farmers in a very difficult situation because of their “inefficiency”.
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