At a press conference called on Thursday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow stated that as long as the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association maintains its position that the Sugar Industry Control Board must intervene to start the crop, he has no intention of meeting with them.
Instead, GOB will support any cane farmer or cane farmer group which is formed to deliver cane to ASR/BSI.
According to the PM, those farmers or groups would be fully within their rights to do so without the Sugar Industry Act having to be amended.
On Thursday the leader of the nation categorically and surgically shredded the position taken by those in the BSCFA including attorney and NTUCB representative, Audrey-Matura-Shepherd, who he described as “radicals”.
As far as intervention by the SICB is concerned, the Prime Minister said that will never happen. Cane farmers have written to that body asking that it step in to force ASR/BSI to start milling the cane.
According to Barrow, he met with ASR/BSI on Wednesday and they have stated clearly that if that attempt were to be made, the company would close its doors permanently and leave. But even without that looming threat, the PM maintains that government cannot take such a high-handed step with a private company which is also a large investor. Those in the BSCFA seeking another sit-down at the negotiation table have also indicated that if the SICB does not act voluntarily, they would seek an Order of Mandamus from the Supreme Court.
Today the PM scoffed at that threat, claiming that in his opinion such an application would fall flat.
The Supreme Court in 2010 declared that portions of the Sugar Industry Act are unconstitutional, and on that premise, Barrow said, the attorney for the “radicals’ cannot petition any court to act, based on an Act declared unconstitutional.
So what’s next for the industry, or more immediately, what’s next for the 2014/2015 crop? The Prime Minister indicated today that he has been informed that an alliance is being formed by groups who are prepared to deliver cane immediately to the factory.
ASR/BSI has confirmed that it will open its gates and mill cane if it has signed commitments for at least 500,000 tons of cane. Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega told the gathering Thursday that he is absolutely sure that they can get that volume, and more!
This new group, or alliance, would operate completely outside the scope of the BSCFA, but would be held to the terms of the last draft agreement proposed between the BSCFA and ASR/BSI.
There will be no amendment of the Sugar Industry Act at this point. Prime Minister Dean Barrow said no amendment is necessary. For now, the government will remove itself from the equation to allow the alliance to pull itself together, if indeed it can.
If that happens, and there is delivery of cane to the factory in the amounts required, GOB will move swiftly to amend the Act in full support of any new organization or association formed.