For the second time in less than two weeks, the Mia Mottley Government is being accused of placing the interests of big business over that of small enterprise and at the expense of millions in Government revenue at the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Company (BADMC).
On this occasion, the accusations of “mismanagement” are coming from Anthony Wood, who resigned as chairman of the state-owned entity (SOE) at the end of April and split from Barbados Labour Party (BLP) less than two weeks ago.
While on Starcom Network’s Down to Brass Tacks call-in programme on Wednesday, Wood warned Government against reneging on its election promise of stamping out corruption, and announced that one of his main reasons for quitting the party surrounded a controversial decision to place a two-month hold on the sale of imported chicken and turkey wings.
In his opinion, the move, which was projected to cost the BADMC more than $4 million in revenue was aimed at maintaining the profits of wealthy chicken producers, while hurting poor Barbadians who rely on the low prices at the Government-owned entity to feed their families and service food establishments.
But Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has again defended the decision arguing that it was made to protect small poultry farmers in the country’s most successful agricultural sub sector, while saving precious foreign currency amid the fallout of COVID-19. Dismissing the criticism as purely political, Weir stressed that Wood is no longer chairman at the BADMC and is no longer responsible for the decisions made there.
According to Wood, when the three-month hold on chicken wing sales was proposed back in March, the BADMC’s financial losses were projected between $4.2 and $4.6 million which, according to him, could place the SOE’s future in jeopardy and was almost unanimously rejected by the board. He claims such a directive would have had to come from the Cabinet of Barbados.
“…if the Cabinet had had the consultation on the matter, then we would be in a position to know the Government’s thinking on the future of the BADMC given the massive financial impact the ban would have had on its sales and also the Cabinet would have been able to tell us how the shortfall in revenue would have been made up so as not to cause the BADMC not to incur a very serious cash flow problem,” Wood argued on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, in mid May, Minister Weir announced a two-month suspension on the sale of chicken and turkey wings, much to the delight of players in the local poultry industry. Amid Wood’s most recent criticisms, Weir argued that the Cabinet’s role is not to approve decisions made at SOE’s unless a change in policy was taking place.
“The BADMC can import any amount of chicken wings and hold them until they are ready to sell them. That is not an issue for a cabinet,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Of the losses in revenue, the agriculture minister declared: “Obviously if you are not selling, you will be losing the revenue that you otherwise would have gained, but did it put the BADMC in a detrimental position? No, it didn’t, and what I did was to allow the BADMC to ramp up its sales and bring in $1 million before we suspended sales. The information that I had was that they could go for five or six weeks without selling chicken wings. That almost one million would have given them an additional two weeks.”
Now that chicken wing sales have resumed at the BADMC, Wood has accused the organisation of increasing their prices by 20 per cent, preventing the SOE from holding a competitive advantage over other stakeholders.
“You cannot be so oppressive to those people who depend on these things and it was done in order to level the playing field in favour of big business, and that is why I need to lead the national consultation on certain aspects of Government,” said Wood.
But Weir argued to the contrary. He said those moves were aimed at preserving the interests of small farmers – many of whom turned to poultry production after being retrenched back in 2018.
“If you had a pandemic that shut down a country and closed off its main foreign currency earner and cause thousands of people to be out of work, are you going to use your foreign poultry to compete with those persons who invested and raised their chickens and put them out of business by being adamant that you are going to sell cheap chicken?” he asked. [email protected]
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