The Ministry of Agriculture is not a law enforcement agency and should not be expected to police praedial larceny.
That is the view of the island’s chief agricultural officer Lennox Chandler, who has insisted that the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) is the agency responsible for dealing with such matters.
Chandler made the comments this morning during a National Consultation on Praedial Larceny at the Savannah Beach Hotel, Christ Church.
While admitting that praedial larceny had gone unchecked for too long, he said the ministry could not function as policemen nor magistrates.
“It has gone on unabated, without the kind of attention and gravity that have been brought to bear on other acts of criminality. Instead, there seems to be the perception that praedial larceny, by and large, is the purview and domain of the Ministry of Agriculture.
“While some of us at the ministry might have been police officers in the past, the fact of the matter is that the Ministry of Agriculture is not a police station, neither is it a court…When I hear of larceny something tells me it is the primary purview of the police and the courts in terms of enforcement,” Chandler said.
“Yes, I understand that the ministry has a role to play in the administration of the Act, but administration and enforcement are not one and the same. If a tourist is mugged in St Lawrence Gap and someone steals a Versace cologne from Cave Shepherd, I don’t hear anyone shouting or calling the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Commerce and Trade. People call the police. But if a sack or rod of sweet potatoes is stolen people ask, ‘What is the Ministry of Agriculture doing?’ and frankly I think this is unfair to us in the ministry,” he added.
In his address, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir called for severe punishments to be handed down to persons found guilty of stealing farmers’ livestock and crops.
He said while he was not advocating for incarceration in all instances, he said other alternatives had to be explored.
One such option, the Minister suggested, was for convicted persons be made to work on the farms where they committed the offences.
“I as a minister will not try to pretend that I support incarceration for every little thing that happens…but I believe that we can give a person a severe punishment without having to imprison that person,” Weir said.
“My view is that if a guy is going to subject himself to stealing, then he should be willing to subject himself to some good hard work and while I am not at this point proposing any solutions to what we can do, I do believe one of the solutions will be that you hold them and let them return to the farmers that they stole from and give back some good time in free labour.”
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Terry Bascombe revealed that farmers wanted harsher penalties and stricter punishments for persons found to have engaged in praedial larceny.
He said the information, which was gathered from previous submissions, called for more jail time for convicted persons, a mandatory minimum sentence, heavier fines, a dedicated police unit to deal with praedial larceny as well as better policing.