A fresh row has erupted between a “baffled” Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler over Government’s multi-million dollar plan to resuscitate the struggling sugar industry.
Estwick is upset that the Ministry of Finance (MOF) has denied an application from the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) for the remaining $18.5 million of the $73 million bond raised by Ansa Merchant Bank – which was approved by Cabinet and guaranteed by Parliament – to advance the Cane Industry Restructuring Project (CIRP).
He told Barbados TODAY the decision by the MOF to block the funds made little sense, particularly at a time when progress was being made on the project.
“I am completely baffled by the action of the Ministry of Finance in light of the Government taking production responsibility for CLICO and Sagicor lands,” the minister emphasized.
Estwick contended that farmers had actually doubled the amount of canes planted for the 2017 sugar crop in preparation for the project.
He said three tranches had already been drawn down, with the money going into getting “large tracks of fallow land” back into sugar production.
A source close to the project told Barbados TODAY some of the funds was used to pay the farmers, general field improvements and trials for the River Tamarind.
Estwick said his ministry had been tasked with the execution of the $250 million project and “we are making significant progress”.
He was at pains to point out that both the MOF and Cabinet had approved the raising of the bond in 2013.
“The tenor of the bond and the maturity of the bond did not materialize de novo. The MOF and the Cabinet approved it [so] the Minister of Finance would have to explain their actions. I have a job to do as minister with responsibility for the BCIRP and I will push for its success,” Estwick insisted.
He told Barbados TODAY the BAMC, the agency empowered under the Sugar Bond Guarantees Act to implement the project, was in talks with the Ministry of Finance in an effort to have the funds released.
The project includes construction of a multi-purpose sugar factory at Andrews, St Joseph for the production of special sugars and molasses for the lucrative rum industry, and the generation of green electricity from bagasse and biomass for sale to Barbados Light & Power Company Limited.
An official source said “the “bassa bassa” over the final tranche began just before Christmas and it had “those two ministers to the point where maybe two to three years ago, when they were at each other’s throat publicly, with letters flying between them accusing each other of X,Y”.
The two senior ministers were involved in a public spat back in 2014 over funding for what many have seen as Estwick’s pet project.
The swords were drawn in November that year, with Estwick virtually calling for Sinckler’s head.
In a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Estwick had accused Sinckler of misleading Cabinet on the CRRP and called for his colleague to be both “reprimanded and charged”.
It followed what inside sources had described as a “very robust” Cabinet session on November 13, at which Estwick did not hide his feelings about Government’s handling of his sugar revival proposal.
At issue at the time was a Memorandum Of Understanding between Inter-Sugar Partnership (ISP), the negotiators at the time of a half billion dollar sugar restructuring loan, and Marubeni, the Japanese concern that was originally scheduled to finance the restructuring project, but later pulled out.
“It has nothing to do with the MOU between ISP and Marubeni,” Estwick said in his letter to Stuart, summing up the November 13 meeting as not only a “brave attempt to mislead and confuse the Cabinet” but also as “diabolical and laughable”.
“No minister should be allowed to deliberately mislead the Cabinet of Barbados,” he wrote then, adding such would constitute a “grievous offence” for which the offending minister should be seriously “reprimanded and charged”.
“I have written to you twice regarding matters of this nature and I want to give you every opportunity to define the authority of the Cabinet. I have no intention to continue to serve in a Cabinet where its instructions to ministers and ministries are not carried out with fidelity,” the outspoken Estwick declared at the time.
Sinckler refused to be drawn into a discussion on the latest revelation, telling Barbados TODAY: “Let the ministries discuss it. I don’t respond to things ministers say in the media.”
The project, construction of which was scheduled to begin in 2015, with completion in time for this year’s sugar crop, has been beset by problems from the beginning, including the withdrawal of the Japanese firm.
In addition, the High Court last January had upheld an application brought by Andrews Great House owner Emile Peter Elias for an interim injunction to stop any further work at the Andrews Factory site or the development of any lands related to the venture.
The source close to the project said Government has since been successful in getting the injunction amended, permitting demolition of the old Andrews Factory to continue, but the administration is still barred from constructing a new factory.
Last January, ISP had also threatened to stop further funding of the multi-purpose sugar factory if the Freundel Stuart administration did not meet certain obligations by the end of June that year.
Director of ISP Edward Marston claimed Government had not kept its promise to infuse millions of dollars as partial equity and to grant a number of concessions because the project was not a priority.