Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Poor Performance Persaud
(Aired 20 April 2011)

 On March 9th I opened the Stabroek newspaper and to my utter astonishment I saw on page 22 a story under the Caption "Export directly to Venezuela, Persaud Urges farmers"

   Let me open my commentary tonight by saying that I have no respect for Robert Persaud's performance as Minister of Agriculture in this country. I will give him credit for two things he can talk a good game; it comes with the experience of making excuses for Jagdeo for several years as his liaison officer, so he is comfortable regurgitating absolute nonsense and making it sound good to the uninformed listener. And two you have to give him credit for his energy in not missing a photo opportunity.. ever!

     Tonight I want to analyse his overall performance and what he said to a group of farmers at a field day meeting recently which was reported in the Stabroek news on March 9th first of all he tells the farmers that the millers are criminals especially the Mahaicony Rice Mill Limited which should hand over all outstanding payments for paddy to the farmers, in addition he accused them of breaking the law, well lambada the law also says that GuySuCo must pay its farmers in a certain way according to the regulations under the cane farming act, but GuySuCo usually owes cane farmers more money than the Maichony Rice Mill Limited for cane delivered to GuySuCo even in the year before! And I am not talking about the final payment, I am talking about the first and second payments. Apparently it is OK for GuySuCo to owe cane farmers money for nearly a year according to the contract until the final price for the sale of all sugar to all markets are determined but for rice millers, since they are private people, the Government and Persaud have different rules, they have to pay for all paddy delivered within a very limited time. I am not saying that this is wrong, I am asking why GuySuCo is allowed to take a year, by contract and the law, to pay the farmers for their sugar cane but the rice millers must give them the full payment within such a short time.

      Not satisfied with the bad situation the millers face Persaud then urged the farmers to quote "exclude the millers and exporters and receive better prices by exporting their rice directly to Venezuela" the utter stupidity of this statement cannot have escaped anyone, so I will only say this; are we going to have thousands of individual farmers exporting their paddy to Venezuela? Since the millers pay the farmers upfront for their paddy, which they then mill to produce rice and seek the best market they can get for the rice; now ladies and gentlemen remember that millers bought the paddy from the farmers so it has become the millers' rice. How does a farmer export rice in this scenario? All along this Minister has been badgering the millers in this country to gain cheap political mileage with the farmers and to keep attention away from the fact that he cannot provide them with good drainage or roads or markets, and I firmly believe that his interference will, in the end, cause friction between the farmers and the millers which can lead to a barrage of problems in the industry, I even harbour a view that Persaud wants to put the millers out of business and take back the mills so that they can be run by the government.  We went through that before Lambada and it didn't work, so leave the rice industry alone. Let Mr. Seeraj and the Rice Producers Association do what they have been doing and the rice industry will be fine. What I can recommend, since as an incurable busybody who need something to do, occupy your time more productively, negotiate better and more secure markets for the farmers' rice since in the case of Mahaicony Rice Mill they bought the paddy when the price was high and by the time they milled it, the price for rice went down leaving them in a very embarrassing financial position. If there was a properly negotiated and stable market price in force at the time, then the millers would have been guaranteed a price which would not leave them high and dry after buying paddy at too high a price.

     And for heaven's sake give the farmers better roads to bring out their produce, I have seen some of those back dam roads and it is impossible to operate economically on them. Getting them their fertilizer and other inputs on time will also help. I won't even speak about drainage and Irrigation facilities, all farmers know what I am saying. Ladies and gentlemen I particularly love it when Lambada gores into an area where the farmers' crops were completely destroyed by collapsed sea defences or poor drainage and gives them a few packs of seeds for them to plant again. Apparently Lambada believes that all a farmer has to do is plant a few seeds and it will just magically grow out of the ground!!

         In the same article GINA announced the following,  that "the rice industry has grown to such an extent that it now rates as the second most important agricultural industry in this country" whilst it may be true that rice is bringing in a little more money recently than fishing, which traditionally occupied second place in agricultural earnings for our nation, production of rice has not actually increased over the past 50 years in this country, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye tells me that in the 1960's when he was Attorney General we produced exactly the same 360,00 tons we produced last year. Saying that rice production has increased in this country over the past few years is a myth perpetrated by whoever it is that concocts these pipe dreams in GINA. As far as the scientist at the GRDB who are breeding newer, better yielding varieties are concerned, I would like to know who these geniuses are since their efforts has not, in fact, allowed us to produce more rice today than 50 years ago.

     therefore if rice production has overtaken fishing as the second largest contributor to our GDP after sugar, it is because since taking office as minister, the production of fish has declined due to poor support from the Ministry of Agriculture, no Marine Biologist has been appointed and there has been a severe drop off in production especially prawns since the government of Guyana and Lambada have failed to protect our fishing grounds from poaching and piracy by Venezuelan and Surinamese fishing boats and it shows in the industry's performance; in 2006 the year Persaud became minister, but too late in the year for any decision he may have made to have had any impact on production, we produced a little over 26,000 tons of fish, by 2009 [the last information we have at our disposal from the Bank of Guyana] we produced just above 25,000 tons, but it is the production of prawns which gives the most cause for concern in 2006 we produced 1,665 tons of prawns but by 2009 it had dropped to 710 tons; and shrimp production which was 16,940 tons in 2006 dropped to 15,248 by 2009 so it is safe to say that Mr. Persaud did not have a positive impact on our second biggest agricultural enterprise; as far as the first major agricultural operation is concerned the picture is even more dismal in 2006 the production of sugar was around 260 thousand tonnes by 2010 it was 220 thousand tonnes and the industry earned 2.5 billion dollars less than in 1999 even though we spent billions on the Skeldon expansion.  Ladies and gentlemen do you see why I have no respect for Mr. Perasud's competence? Am I being unfair in my assessment of him? Performance has to be equated with production and his is very bad, he spends a lot of money and achieves nothing. He cannot escape this assessment of his performance regarding the sugar industry, because when the Economics Services Committee [ESC] of Parliament asked GuySuCo to come in to explain their situation in 2007 and again in 2009 Mr. Persaud came with them, and the Parliament was instructed that all correspondence for GuySuCo from the Economic Services Committee must go through Persaud. If he wanted Parliament to go through him to speak to GuySuCo we have to conclude that he was running GuySuCo and is therefore responsible for its sad state.

   I cannot explain why in the 2009 BOG report there is no information as to how coconuts, cassava, ground provisions, plantains etc. fared since their production was not reported for that year; as seen here but since we saw massive drops in the production of these crops between 2000 to 2008 and since there was no data about what happened in 2009, we have to conclude that the performance of the rest of the agricultural sector was so poor in 2009 that the Bank of Guyana was either not given the quantities produced or were coerced not to show them. So not only is there no freedom of information act in this country, there is evidence that information is being obscured by the Government and the Bank of Guyana.

  In his national budget speech our Minister of Finance told us that he cannot understand what is happening since in 2008, 72% of the sugar workers turned out to cut the cane, in 2009 it dropped to 62% and in 2010 it dropped again to 52%. Mr. Ashly Singh is supposed to be an educated man, tell me ladies and gentlemen if you are seeing over a three year period a consistent annual drop of 10% turnout of cane cutters do we have to hit him over the head with an empty cane punt to make him realise that the sugar workers are leaving the industry.

    We know the cash crop farmers are leaving the land because the drainage is so poor everywhere and they have lost too much and the support from the government has been particularly poor. The following is the situation with some of the main cash crops; in the year 2000 we produced nearly 99 million coconuts; in 2008 [the last year the Bank of Guyana [BOG] gave us information] the production was only around 32 million nuts, in 2000 we produced nearly 45 thousand tonnes of cassava, in 2008 it dropped to 4 thousand tonnes, in 2000 we produced a little over 15 thousand tonnes of ground provisions, in 2008 it dropped to a little over 2 thousand tonnes. In 2000 we produced a little over 23 thousand tonnes of plantains in 2008 we only produced around 2.5 thousand tonnes. And it goes on bananas, mango, pineapples, all dropping drastically over the past few years. The farmers don't need outreach meetings with Lambada, they need crop insurance to protect them from his incompetence. In the mean time you have to pay more for things we grow here.

      So the evidence is clear as an agricultural nation we have been failing miserably over the past 10 years and no one is really solving this disastrous problem I am not even sure that they are paying attention to it. But over this same 10 year period 1999 to 2009 according to BOG report the spending to keep this incompetent, corrupt government in power, rose from 16.7 billion in 1999 when Mrs Jagan left office, to 39.178 billion in 2009 under Jagdeo. That is why you have to pay so much VAT, it is needed to plug the losses in agriculture and to keep this bloated incompetent government in power to enrich themselves at your expense. Over the same period 1999 to 2009 the combined earnings from sugar and rice dropped by nearly 2 billion dollars. From around 27 billion in 1999 to around 25 billion in 2009!

   So let me repeat my opening statement I have no respect for Robert Persaud's competence to be a Minister of Agriculture.