Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017


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Commentary the Rice Millers Bill
(Aired 15 January 2007)

    On behalf of the farmers in this country I rise to address this initiative by the Minister of Agriculture and hopefully to put it where it belongs in the le Repentair cemetery, it is clear is that this bill is just a ploy to appease the disgruntled rice farmers in the country, their problems are numerous and they have been left completely in the wilderness by successive Ministers of Agriculture since the PPP came to power; in fact they have been sabotaged by the very government they voted for which I will show as we progress what is most ridiculous is the fact that even though we have had two Ministers of Agriculture for a substantial part of this administration's stewardship, the agriculture sector in Guyana finds itself in complete disarray.

   To establish this for you I will relate again the facts as complied by the Bank of Guyana for 2005; ladies and Gentlemen if one takes the year 2000 as a benchmark year, and use that year as a one hundred percent index of achievement, here is how our agricultural production appear on paper in 2005, expressed as a percentage of 2000; Sugar was only 90% of what it was in 2000; Rice was only 93.6%; in fact in the year 1999 rice production was 125.2% of what it was in 2000 so rice production has been declining steadily since 1999 and I will come to the reasons why in due course; coconuts was only 75%; cassava 44.7%; Plantains, which the Honourable Robert has told the media is one of the four P's he will increase and save the nation was only 15.4% of what it was in 2000, Bananas went up to 142%; but mangoes went down to 42%, and pineapples which is another of the P's that the honourable Robert has promised to make a pillar of Agri. production during his tenure as the agricultural head of the nation was only 50% of what it was in 2000; Citrus was only 42%; hot peppers another P of minister Persaud's PPPP plan, was only 20%; bora and tomatoes were only 18 and 17% respectively of what they were in 2000.   

   Our current production of peanuts is apparently just peanuts, since its production is not computed in the statistics of the nation, so it should be an easy task to increase it, the honourable Robert's 4 P's therefore have nowhere to go but up, since they are already at the bottom now, thanks to Mr. Perasad's incompetent predecessors!

   At this point I want to tell the public that I am still groping with the task of delivering a speech when everyone is heckling and distracting me, but I learn quickly and we have 5 years but let me tell the PPP this, you can heckle me and distract me in the Parliament all you want to, I will do my damage here on this medium since the Guyanese people, almost all of them, listen to, and believe what I am saying, since I can always prove  it and the more you heckle me, the more I will be motivated to butcher you here on this medium where I am strong and better yet, I enjoy butchering you here, so, leh we goh.  

   Statistically speaking therefore using the government's own numbers published in the 2005 Bank of Guyana report, the PPP's management of the agricultural situation in this nation has been a complete disaster since 1992, what is even more astonishing is that it is from among this same sector of national endeavour that their main political support is concentrated. One can only ask why these same farmers keep voting for them.

   Now for the bill we were assembled to discuss and hopefully to bury.

   The RPA's website tells the world that quote "with the developing process of globalization and increasing free trade, the once protected and guaranteed rice markets for Guyana are gradually vanishing, this puts a huge burden on the rice manufacturers to find markets for their produce" end quote; This puts the problems which the rice manufacturers face into context for the nation. The RPA website also tells us that it has been working with other players in the industry to position farmers to ensure that their activities remain sustainable. And the RPA forecasts that the rice producers in Guyana including the millers are in for a tough time. To my utter astonishment the head of the RPA a PPP parliamentarian rose to speak at a later time in the debate; what, may I ask, is he doing there, how will the rice farmers in this country get a square deal when the head of the RPA is there in the Parliament making excuses for the PPP Government when agriculture in this nation is going down the drain? You, ladies and Gentlemen decide how good that is.

      Now for the specific bill, ladies and gentlemen this Rice factories act seeks broadly to achieve three things 1. It seeks to force manufacturers to pay an application fee when applying for a permit to establish a rice factory it does not say how much, but hopefully in view of the current crisis in the rice sector it will not be too much; 2. It seeks to force the rice millers to pay the farmers expeditiously by imposing interest at a rate of 2% higher than the prevailing commercial lending rates in the event of late payments which is arbitrarily set at 40-60 days after delivery of paddy to the mill by contract between the farmer and his miller every year; and 3. It sets a ceiling of disallowing any miller from owing farmers for paddy of no more than 5% of the miller's total gross earnings for the previous year! Let me repeat this in case you think that you did not hear me right, the ceiling is set at 5% of the total previous year's total income of the miller, so Robert's bill seeks to stop a miller from milling or receiving paddy in the middle of a crop period when the delivery of all paddy to the mills is essentially done within a two month period and if he owes 5% of his total annual earnings at any time during the crop, the miller if he doesn't have ready cash, has to stop receiving paddy and send the farmer away, or go to the bank and borrow the money to pay for the paddy, or as the bill provides for, he can go to minister Robert hat in hand and beg for time to pay! So this is the hook which the PPP have put in the legislation to empower the minister to penalise any miller not in compliance with this act, if any miller owes more than 5% of his total previous annual receipts, he can approach the minister for permission to go over this very low and unreasonable threshold. Now you and I know which millers will get permission and which will not, i.e. those who are powerful lobbyists or are known sympathisers of the PPP will get the extension, but those not sympathetic to the PPP will not get an extension.   

   This is supposed to be democracy at work! Now remember that despite our protests this bill passed in the house. You must wake up ladies and gentlemen, this bill is not just about farmers going hat in hand to Persuad, its about your choices as individuals in this nation and as I see it you only have three 1. Get a PPP party card; 2. Leave Guyana; or 3. demand equality, you do not have a fourth choice and so I as a member of the Vieira family, the country's largest cane farmers supplying LBI with around 20-30% of their total cane production, will approach the courts, since I see that as a cane farmer I am not being treated the same as the rice farmers and that's discriminatory and unconstitutional, so I want Guysuco to pay the cane farmers in this nation, in full, within 40-60 days of delivery of our canes to the factory. The sugar cane farmers' input is very valuable to the Guyana Sugar Corporation, supplying around 15% of the total national production, furthermore the Skeldon expansion project visualises that the new mill will require 30% farmers' canes.

    In fact the entire Skeldon project hinges on this 30% input from cane farmers but their situation throughout this nation is becoming impossible as is every other field of endeavour except money laundering, drug dealings and casino gambling.

     This ladies and gentlemen is frankly a piece of legislation which seeks to obtain cheap political mileage for the government by deceiving the rice farmers into believing that something is being done about the serious cash flow condition in the rice sector by penalising the millers.    

    Now remember that the miller will have to find all of the money to pay the farmer before he actually sells, much less gets paid for the rice from the person to whom he is selling it, a process which the RPA tells us is becoming more tenuous daily.     

   Despite all of the rhetoric that the dishonourable Robert and others are giving us, It is very clear that the rice millers in Guyana, are dropping like flies all around us Angad Rupee on the West Demerara, Ivor Allen in the Essequibo, Mankad on the east Coast, Sankar at Blairmont just to name a few big millers who have gone belly up over the past 7 years, these people must have done the PPP government a grave injustice at some time or the other, since this is the second time since 1992, with this bill, that the PPP is trying to put them out of business!

  I will not sit here and tell you that our rice millers are saints, indeed they are totally disorganised some may even be abusing the poor rice farmers but what I am saying is that since quite a few of the bigger millers are going bankrupt which is clear and tangible evidence that they are suffering a real economic problem among them, I think that the problems of the rice millers should be addressed by the government before they seek to penalise them further, since this act, has the capacity to put more of them over the precipice of bankruptcy affecting the entire rice industry in Guyana, all of them the farmers and the millers.

  Ladies and gentlemen this worries me, because I am genuinely afraid that if the millers are financially unable to meet these new criteria of interest and ceiling of indebtedness of only 5% at any one time as outlined in this bill, they may not be able to buy the paddy at all, or buy it [since it is a perishable commodity] at reduced prices to the detriment of the farmers leaving them in a worst situation than they are now. i.e. the 1999 situation all over again, for those who have forgotten the 1999 situation, it arose because the rice industry having enjoyed a brief period of preferential markets through the European OCT route which came to an abrupt end in 1997 the fallout of which nearly bankrupted the entire industry by 1999, a lot of what happened had to do with Fazil Ally the PPP's RPA functionary and activist demanding that the millers pay a better price for Paddy which they were forced to do since the RPA was acting as a political arm of the PPP, but at the end of the day the millers, unable to afford the increased price, refused to buy the paddy and the entire industry ended up owing the commercial banks 11 billion dollars by 1999.    

    During the debate in parliament, to my utter astonishment, the opposition presented evidence in the form of a letter dated 14th August 1997 to the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands in Brussels from the incredibly ungifted Clement Rohee, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, telling the OCT that Guyana is objecting to aspects of the arrangements of the OCT trade pact in preference to the ACP, so the economic havoc the loss of the OCT route to Guyana caused our rice farmers and our millers in 1997, nearly bankrupting most of them by 1999, was caused by Rohee personally, in this incredibly ill advised correspondence; so, is this man now back watching bicycles outside Freedom House? No this is the man who will protect us from criminals, drug lords, terrorists, escaped convicts and see to it that the police enforce the law to protect us. That's why we are where we are, total incompetence is not being punished its being rewarded.

    The problems that millers have in Guyana are numerous, some of which are of their own making to be sure, but a lot of which is occasioned by a national situation which is against private enterprise especially private manufacturing high cost of power and the high cost of fuel are just two.

    So this turns out to be a situation which is prompted by the increasing difficulty of selling Guyana's rice abroad, and the blame lies with the failure of successive PPP Ministers of Trade who are more preoccupied with trade shows and the Main Street lime rather than to guide the millers to a more efficient method of marketing their produce abroad so that that they in turn can pay the farmers a better price on time.

   For example the local millers tell me this that the Guyana Rice Development Board GRDB and Guyana Rice Millers & Exporters Development Association (GRMEDA) are completely non functional in so far as they are not helping the millers to organise themselves to be more efficient producers or to get markets for Guyana rice abroad, the GRDB website nevertheless proudly proclaims that:  

The functions of GRDB are:

I.                    To develop the rice Industry in Guyana and to promote the expansion of the export trade in the said industry.

II.                 To establish facilities for the conduct of research, relating to rice and extend to farmers through an established system the benefits derived from such research.

III.               To engage in such promotional and developmental activities which the Board deems necessary for the purpose of developing the rice industry.

   These entities however appear to be on the internet for show, to deceive the world that there are bodies in this country that the rice industry can depend on to guide the process of finding new markets and to encourage the local millers to combine their efforts to produce a better product in a timely fashion so that they can get access to better markets, none of this is happening! So the failure is with the government and not with the millers.

   That is why the millers are so disorganised and unable to pay on time, increasing their expenses will not solve the problem and will, I fear, lead to further economic problems in the sector.