Steeper fines, longer jail terms and an agricultural vendors registry are some of the measures to be included in Government’s long promised praedial larceny Bill, Minister of Agriculture and Water Resource Management David Estwick has revealed.
Speaking to the media following Thursday afternoon’s launch of the Ministry’s e-platform for registered agricultural producers and buyers, Estwick explained that the legislation was now complete and awaiting Parliament’s stamp of approval, which he hopes will take place in the not-too-distant future.
Insisting that his ministry has done its part, Estwick contended that the registration thrust facilitated by the e-platform, along with the new legislation, would significantly reduce crop theft, which continues to be a threat to the livelihood of farmers.
“There are going to be significant increases in punishments and other measures. The old legislation only dealt with the realm of the magistrate’s court while this other legislation takes you to the top end of the court system.
“For example, under the old legislation a first time offender was charged $2,500 for his first fine and a second fine would be $5,000, but those are now significantly enhanced. There is also a provision which works within the concept of the drug court. So in other words the penalty is directly related to quantity. So if you are going to steal large quantities, you will end up before the High Court as opposed to the magistrates’ court,” said Estwick, who disclosed that the new Bill was fashioned on Jamaica’s recently implemented Praedial Larceny Prevention Act.
He also explained that unlike the old legislation, which only required farmers to be registered with the Ministry of Agriculture, vendors would also now be required to be licensed in order to sell agricultural produce. This licence, along with the receipts and certificates from the supplying farm must be produced at the request of inspectors.
“The new legislation allows for movement beyond registration of farmers to registration of vending of agricultural produce. So as long as you out there selling agricultural produce you got to say where you get it. The inspectors, who have specific powers that would be managed under the police, can ask the vendors to verify that they are registered as an agricultural vendor and that they have the receipts from the farmer,” Estwick stated.
The minister was however quick to point out that no legislation was perfect, and he cautioned the public not to expect that the new measures would totally eradicate crop theft.
“Obviously this is not going to stop a man from thiefing if he is a big thief, but the fact of the matter is that it allows us a framework. But no framework is perfect, it is not perfect in any other countries that have more resources than we have. I am confident that the elements within the legislation would redound to significantly reduced incidents of praedial larceny,” he stressed.