Commodity board members in Grenada are treating with suspicion the move afoot by the Keith Mitchell-led government to merge the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA) and the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) into a new single body and to liberalise the nutmeg and cocoa industries.
A leading board member told THE NEW TODAY that the associations are concerned with recent utterances made by Prime Minister Mitchell in a national broadcast and denials from two senior government ministers that they are not aware of the draft bill prepared by the office of the Attorney-general to create the new body.
A five-member Merger Committee made up of three government representatives including Acting Chief Magistrate Teddy St. Louis and the Heads of GCNA and GCA are meeting weekly to discuss the possible merger and liberalization of the sector.
The board member expressed alarm over denials made by government ministers – Caricom Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph and Agriculture Minister, Yolande Bain-Horsford on the “Beyond the Headlines” programme hosted by the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) last week Monday night that they had any knowledge of the draft bill.
“It’s very disappointing when you listen to the ministers’ utterances. How could a government’s position be brought to the association and the ministers don’t know? That doesn’t make sense to me at all. I was surprised at their response,” he said.
According to the Board member, the draft bill had to in some way reflect government’s initial thinking on the merger and liberalisation issue in order for the office of the Attorney General to start the drafting process of the bill that has to be taken to Parliament.
He said it is virtually impossible for the AG’s office to design a draft bill in isolation and bring it for the two associations to discuss with the government representatives on the Merger Committee.
“It has to be cleared by government or the Cabinet or whatever it is. So when they say they never saw it I don’t know. I find it very interesting,” he added.
The board member stated that it is impossible for official correspondence to leave GCNA and GCA head offices without the knowledge of the irrespective managers and the heads of the governing Board of Directors.
He charged that something is fishy and wrong with the statements made on the GBN programme by Ministers Joseph and Bain-Horsford that they do not know anything about the contents of the draft bill and might have been a ploy by the ministers to avoid commenting in the open to the public on the content of the document.
“If they say that they didn’t see it then it made it easier for them not to answer any questions (on the GBN) programme about it because if they had said yes, they know about it then the amount of questions that would have come (from callers) might have showed them up totally. So it might have been a ploy to avoid the barrage of questions. That is how I read it,” he said.
THE NEW TODAY was the media outlet that brought the contents of the controversial draft bill into the public domain.
The documents seeks to give the Minister of Agriculture the power to appoint all seven or nine members of the Board of Directors on the new company that will replace GCNA and GCA.
In addition, the minister will have the right to grant license to persons to engage in export of nutmeg and mace, as well as cocoa, which was previously in the hands of the two committee organisations.
The board member said that he had interacted with the GCNA and GCA representatives on the Merger Committee and formed the opinion that there was “openness” by the government representatives during meetings of the body.
According to the board official, the government representatives seems to understand the GCNA and GCA position on liberalisation of the cocoa and nutmeg industries and that it will not be accepted by farmers.
He said it was reported by the two representatives that the government side are willing “to listen to us very carefully and work along”.
“That is very clear from the meetings,” he quoted one of the commodity board members as saying.
The official noted that a sticking point in the discussions taking place at the level of the Merger Committee is the utterances from Prime Minister Mitchell that government is not turning back from merger and liberalisation of the industry.
He said that anyone who listened to PM Mitchell’s national address on the issue two weeks ago and the utterances of the two ministers on the GBN programme then “you wonder if they (government members) are speaking the truth or whether there is a disconnect between the (Merger) Committee and them”.
“The Prime Minister made (it) clear in his address (to the Nation) that it is merger and liberalisation – so sometimes you wonder why you’re meeting in the committee,” he remarked.
“The association’s position is that we don’t see liberalisation as an option at all. It is clear to us while we are prepared to discuss merger – we can discuss it – but liberalisation is not up for discussion,” he said.
According to the commodity board member if Prime Mitchell is adamant that liberalisation will take place regardless of the position of the two associations then it makes one wonder how that position by the island’s leader is going to affect the work of the committee given the position of both GCNA and GCA on the issue.
He said at the moment it boils down to anybody’s guess about what will eventually happen at the end of the discussions involving members of the Merger Committee.
“You put a committee to try and work things out, see what can be done, see what cannot be done and then you (Prime Minister Mitchell) are making public statements saying what must be done.
“So while the committee might be trying to negotiate what can be done with the associations, the Prime Minister is on the other hand saying what has to be done. So one wonders exactly where this is heading.
According to the board member, the committee will continue to meet as it has a responsibility “to make sure it does its part and report to government” on the final outcome of the discussions on merger and liberalization of the industry.
“It’s like a consultant reporting to a government on a particular matter and the government decides what action it will take. It may listen to what the consultant say or it may go on its own but the consultant has his responsibility to get his work done,” he said.
Nutmeg and Cocoa farmers have been holding Area meetings in the past two weeks with several of them opposed to many aspects of the merger plan in the draft bill especially on the assets of the two associations running over a billion EC dollars.