He is considered by some as the most controversial Cabinet minister in Barbados, and has even been critical of some of his own ministerial colleagues. Even when the voice of Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Management Dr David Estwick had been silent for any length of time in the past year, it created major interest. Whenever it was heard, his comments were big news that had tongues wagging.
Among the most intriguing moments that sparked widespread debate were Dr Estwick’s threats to resign, his ultimatum to the Prime Minister and his call for Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to be sanctioned over his handling of an alternative funding proposal to finance the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project. With these matters in mind, Barbados TODAY selected Estwick as Newsmaker Of The Year in its Year In Review 2014.
Following is an interview with Estwick by Senior Reporter Emmanuel Joseph for that review.
Dr Estwick, it is almost the end of the year. If you had to look back on 2014, how would you describe it for you as minister?
As the Minister responsible for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Management, I would have to look back at the year with mixed feelings. I think I have been able –– and the ministry –– to achieve a number of targets set. But we have missed some of them.
I would want to congratulate the staff, in particular those working directly with the Barbados Water Authority. I think that the responsibility for the Water Authority would have been given to my ministry on June 15, 2011, and I think within that period of time they were able to successfully execute the Barbados Water Authority headquarters, the Ionics Water Mains Project.
We would have been able to successfully execute the Canadian Commercial Corporation And Export Development Canada Smart Meter Project, which is now ongoing. We were able to successfully execute the St Philip Water Augmentation Project and we would have launched, I think about three weeks ago [late November], the IDB Water And Sanitation’s Mains Upgrade Project. I would have to give them kudos for this.
In addition to that, the other successes under the ministry in regards to the year, would be that we piloted the first National Agricultural Policy, which is the White Paper on agricultural development in the country, and we would have started the new Food Zone Policy . . . with a new food zone in St George, hopefully to roll out the second food zone early in the year.
We would have also moved aggressively to passing through Parliament, the Animal Disease And Importation Amendment Bill, which allows you to bring in now pets and other animals without having to send them to Europe. We have now advanced the praedial larceny new legislation. That is now with the Committee of Governance of the Cabinet to move through the system to Parliament.
So I would have to look back with some thanks and appreciation that the ministry did function effectively in that regard. Then obviously the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project, as well as the West Coast Sewerage Project. Those are now before the Ministry of Finance, hopefully to take them to Cabinet very shortly. So that is the positive side of the coin.
The negative side, for me, really relates to . . . fiscal constraints that are still affecting the capacity of the Government to carry out its public service, infrastructural development and other human resource development activities . . . . As a result of that, the ministry has not been able to carry forward as aggressively several of its developmental-type agricultural policies as we would
I would like to mention that at least we were able to get the old rebate system changed to an upfront farmers’ development programme where farmers, instead of having to wait at the end of purchasing items, can get the value of that quantum of rebate upfront, so as to help them offset the cost in regards to their purchases and so on. I think that has had a significant impact.
In fact, the non-sugar agriculture has increased by about 18 per cent. That correlates extremely well with a significant increase in the number of persons who would have gone to the BADMC and requested land under the Land For The Landless Programme and its Land Lease Programme that is to the stage now where we cannot even find land to lease to persons who need that. So all of those are the positives and negatives in regards to the ministry at this point.
Going forward, what would you say is the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed?
I honestly think the most urgent matters my ministry has been charged with responsibility by the Cabinet to carry forward are the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project, the West Coast Sewerage Project and praedial larceny. Those three I believe, would have far-reaching impact on the capacity of the agricultural sector to enhance its contribution to GDP.
I think very strongly, that the praedial larceny in particular is a significant scourge and it dissuades investment. Once we can provide the legislation that allows for a more comprehensive management of how one deals with offenders, I am confident that this will assist us in dealing with that particular aspect of the problem.
What are the new provisions in that proposed praedial larceny legislation?
The new praedial larceny legislation is going to come as an omnibus-type legislation. In other words, we are repealing the entire praedial larceny legislation and we are replacing that with a new legislation that really deals with agricultural development and protection. In that legislation, we would be looking at provisions that deal with bringing all vendors into a registration arrangement.
Right now, you have persons who would be vending agricultural produce on the road and you don’t know where they got them from. There is no licensing and there is no registration capability. As long as you become a vendor of agricultural produce, you are going to be brought into a registration capability.
The second critical element is that all farmers must be registered; and then thirdly would be the traceability dynamics, which would be they must all have receipts given for all purchases. The traceability allows you to trace back from a farmer to a wholesaler to a retailer; so you can see exactly where the item would have come from, once it gets into the hands of the retailer.
In addition to that, we are introducing what would be known as agricultural inspectors. These inspectors would have the capacity to randomly check in areas where agricultural produce are being vended and say ‘Where is your licence?’ Once you cannot produce that licence, well then you are outside the system; you are then subject to police involvement.
So there are a lot of provisions, in addition to introducing technology that we would allow to have special concessional rates of inputs to the purchase of these things. One that we are advocating very strongly, apart from the use of camera systems, is the use of what we call select DNA.
This is essentially a micro dot technology that allows you to be able to spray the plants, spray anything that can be peeled, spray in certain areas like animals and once the police come and evaluate that with an ultra violet light, then you know whether it is registered to farm A or farm B or farm C. So we think that these will help tremendously in regards to assisting us with praedial larceny.
With respect to the inspectors, does this mean more people would be hired?
Yes. We will create a system very much like traffic wardens. We have had long standing discussions with the Royal Barbados Police Force and we were appropriately advised –– in fact, the Police Force is intimately involved in the setting up and in the operations element of the first food zone in St George.
Coming out of that, we are clear that once the traceability moves in, then we are confident that the police would be in a good position to prosecute all those who are selling stuff without a licence and all those persons who would have stuff and cannot demonstrate where they got it from.