Government and the Opposition clashed in the House of Assembly last night, trading verbal blows over which of the two was to blame for the sugar industry’s current depressing state.
Barbados Labour Party spokesman, St. James Central MP, Kerrie Symmonds, whose views were supported by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, criticised Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick’s statements on Government’s plans for sugar, including the operation of a single multipurpose factory, calling it a BLP plan inherited by the current administration, but on which it has dragged its feet on implementing.
But in a heated exchange which tested presiding Chairman of Committees James Paul, both Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, and Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick were adamant that Government’s sugar restructuring plan was new and Arthur’s administration had left a different programme, but with no financing plans in place.
The disagreement emerged around 10 p.m. last night as the Lower House discussed agriculture, with Symmonds saying the DLP came to office in 2008 and found a sugar adaptation plan, put it on pause, and was now seeking to put it in place like “a brand new second hand car” and “manna falling from Heaven”.
“So what we are facing, Sir, is a government that quite frankly is either extremely lethargic or virtually schizophrenic because the truth is, Mr. Chairman Sir, … you cannot jettison the same project in 2008 that you come back in 2013 with,” he said.
“I listened intently to the minister, Sir, the minister said nothing different about his 2013 proposal than that which existed and the government came and found in 2008, virtually word for word, and step by step.” In an immediate response, Sinckler said Symmond’s views were merely “the optics of the intent of the Barbados Labour Party to pretend that they were going to do something about the sugar industry when in truth and fact they really did not intend to do so”.
“They abandoned the restructuring process and it is only when jolted into reality by the common agricultural policy changes that they then picked up and tried to resume a restructuring of the sugar industry.
“I hear all of these crocodile tears about agriculture, where were these tears being shed for the agricultural sector when the honorable member for St. Peter was presiding over a Cabinet that spent almost $80 million on a dump that up to now not a toffy paper has gone to, that $80 million could have gone into restructuring the agricultural sector in Barbados.
“In fact, the very adaptation strategy … that the honorable member for St. Peter is speaking about had no financing proposal attached to it of significance… There were fundamental flaws to how that was built out.
“The Barbados Labour Party Opposition cannot lecture anybody in this Parliament or anywhere in Barbados on the question of agriculture because when they had the opportunity for 14 years with all of the resources at their disposal they did absolutely nothing to transform that sector to move it from point A to point B,” the St. Michael North West MP asserted.
But Sinckler’s views did not sit well with Arthur, who said Symmonds was right in his views that the DLP found a sugar adaptation plan formulated as a result of Europe’s plans to end preferential treatment and reduce the price it paid countries like Barbados for sugar, and the St. Peter MP told government “great damage was done by putting this on pause”.
“Our sugar industry existed in large measure because we had a guaranteed quota and a guaranteed price with Europe. Europe said we are going to drop that guaranteed price over a number of years, you are going to lose a lot of money, we will help you to make the adaptation to your sugar industry,” Arthur said.
“And this therefore was the product of it, it was to have been implemented, somebody in the Democratic Labour Party government took over the initiative and rather than proceeding full steam ahead they decided to put it on pause and it is now being taken off pause.
“But the member for St. James Central is absolutely correct when he says that … what is now being contemplated is in large measure what was the adaptation plan.”
Estwick insisted, however, that the BLP plans and DLP plans were not the same, and that the Opposition could not rightly claim credit for any current restructuring plan for the sugar industry.
“The project has to do with an overall transformation that has to do with the farm side in addition to the factory side. Your strategy speaks to the factory transformation, they are two completely different projects and in addition to that I have read the adaptation strategy and the adaptation strategy has to do with building … human resource capacity, and technical capacity, it had nothing to do with funding for infrastructure in relation to the factory and so on,” he said.
“Don’t come to me with that I know what is in the document, I read it, so I hope you learn your lesson. I done talk to him for the balance of the night,” the St. Philip West MP added in comments directed at Symmonds. (SC)