ST JOHN’S – A controversial deal involving the importation and distribution of bulk rice and sugar has been halted on the intervention of Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
The Central Marketing Corporation (CMC) was expected to become the sole importer of both commodities through a partnership with a private company, BOAD Aggregates Limited, with which the son of the country’s attorney general is affiliated.
Sparks flared on the weekend when details of the agreement were disclosed via the media.
Browne acknowledged the concern indicating the management of the corporation has been advised to not go forward with the deal until the concerns are addressed.
“I understand that there are some concerns and we have since placed the deal on hold until we can get further and better particulars,” he said.
“The intent here is not to preclude existing suppliers of rice and other products from importing. My understanding of the intent was to deal specifically with basmati rice and to have the unfinished product imported to Antigua and to have the polishing take place here …,” the PM said.
Based on documents obtained by OBSERVER media, BOAD has proposed to supply CMC with a minimum of 100 tonnes of rice each month — the equivalent of four 20-foot containers — and 100 tonnes of sugar.
However, CMC indicated in the draft document that it would not be able to achieve the feat without a full monopoly on the importation of rice in Antigua.
CMC also presented similar concerns over the quantity of sugar, which BOAD presented in its draft agreement.
The statutory corporation also warned that there would be serious negative political implications for the current administration “especially at this critical stage of its tenure, should a monopoly be granted”.
Both parties had agreed to have follow-up talks to address the concerns.