Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has called on Government to go back to the drawing board with its
Protection of Agricultural Products and Livestock Bill, 2017.
While saying she was in agreement with some aspects of the new legislation, Mottley said there was need for Government to re-examine some “archaic” clauses that may serve to hamper small scale vendors and farmers.
Speaking just after Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick introduced the measure in the House of Assembly, Mottley said: “We will gladly support the use of technology like drones and cameras to monitor farms, and the ability to admit any footage gathered from these devices as evidence in court. We would also like the telephone number for the praedial larceny hotline so we can share it with our constituents, and we are willing to help with the praedial larceny desk and any public service announcements or education efforts associated with it.”
However, she took offence to provisions in the bill, such as the registration of all farmers and vendors, arguing that “Every boy selling ackees, everyone selling nuts or coconuts in this country, whether in a cul-de-sac, or at a roundabout, is being made to be a criminal if he does not register under this Act, where he may merely be looking for a way to support his family.”
In reference to a point Estwick made about the laws in other countries, she said in Trinidad, farmers and vendors only had to register with the authorities if they were in possession of at least 2,500 kilogrammes of produce.
The Member of Parliament for St Michael North East also queried the role of the wardens that would be enforcing the laws, stating that “we are giving powers of arrest and stop and search to people who have not been trained as law enforcement officers, and this is not fair”.
On the subject of the certificates proving items were purchased from a legitimate dealer in farm produce, she said: “These certificate books were available from the Government Printery at one point, but no new books have been printed since the original stock ran out.”
She concluded that the bill in its present form should be sent to Parliament’s Select Committee and re-examined before it becomes law, and accused the present administration of “rushing the bill through Parliament, 13 weeks before its scheduled dissolution, without proper consultation.
“We are prepared to work with the minister to do what is necessary to fight praedial larceny, but we cannot agree to a badly drafted bill that needs amendments,” the Barbados Labour Party leader stressed.
In fact, she took issue with the five-year penalty listed under the legislation saying it should only be two years.
However, in his presentation, St Lucy Member of Parliament Denis Kellman argued that the five-year prison term was introduced when a BLP administration amended the law in 1995.
The Minister of Housing also refuted Mottley’s claims that vendors were not consulted on the bill, saying, “It is well known that Government has met with vendors and outlined to them what we plan to do for them, and we have shown them we won’t just talk, but take action.
“When we pass legislation, it is for the benefit of everyone in this country. We do not leave out anyone; we have no biases against rich or poor. Passing this bill will create growth in this country and the BLP is against anything that will create growth,” Kellman charged.