An ex Cabinet minister in a former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration has launched another verbal attack on his ex-boss over recent comments he made concerning the Government’s ban on the importation of chicken wings during COVD-19 pandemic.
Anthony Wood, a former Minister of Agriculture who recently resigned as Chairman of the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) over differences with the man who appointed him, Indar Weir, was on the war path again today.
Last week Wednesday, Weir – the current Minister of Agriculture and Food Security who is in charge of the BADMC – went on Starcom Network’s radio talk show Down To Brass Tacks to discuss the contentious chicken wings issue.
But one of the things which has Wood upset was Weir’s attempt to make a distinction between “a ban and a suspension”.
Describing it as simplistic nonsense, Wood declared that the minister’s comments showed “tremendous lack of understanding of the relevant issues”.
Wood, who last month also resigned from the party and withdrew his support for the St Philip South MP in a constituency he once held, took Weir to task for stating that “we are expecting wings this month [July}, which would have been ordered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“The BADMC received chicken wings since the pandemic started, large quantities which were in cold storage when the decision was taken to cease the sale of chicken wings in late May, 2020. Any chicken wings expected in late July will be based on orders placed after the country began preparations for the COVID 19 pandemic,” said the man who played a significant role in the defeat of the Democratic Labour Party’s Adriel Brathwaite during the 2018 General Elections.
Wood, who campaigned for Weir leading up to his election victory, also disputed his remarks that “space had to be left for the hundreds of Barbadians who produce poultry as a small business, to be in a position to earn revenue”.
Minister Weir also said on the call-in programme that “They [Barbadians] can’t be disenfranchised. The small poultry business is one of Barbados’ success stories. To destabilise that would result in significant unemployment.”
But Wood has presented an opposing perspective.
“The BADMC has been facilitating the marketing and sale of chicken produced by small producers for quite some time. Indeed, it is an established policy for BADMC to purchase the produce of small producers and sell them in the Carmeta shops. No space has to be created for them; this is an existing policy of the corporation,” the former BADMC chairman contended.
He argued that the driving force for banning the sale of chicken wings at BADMC with its far-reaching negative consequences for local consumers and small food businesses, was to deal with a glut of chicken in Barbados.
“The stockpile of chicken in Barbados has been contributed to in a disproportionate way by the large chicken producers who control the industry and not the small producers,” the Wood declared.
“Furthermore, beyond the marketing facilitation provided by BADMC for small producers, it is customary for them to do personalised marketing. Small contract growers for large entities and other small producers should not be used as pawns to justify a foolish policy,” he added.
He said that ceasing the sale of chicken wings at BADMC for seven weeks would have resulted in a loss of revenue of nearly $2 million, thereby creating a massive hole in the corporation’s finances.
“It also resulted in redundancy in employment in the department of State Trading Enterprise. To have workers not engaged and still being paid for seven weeks is simply a colossal wastage of taxpayers’ money at a time when the country can least afford such. However, it is not the workers’ fault,” emphasized the former chairman.
Wood also reiterated that when crop farmers have a glut, BADMC or any other Government agency does not intervene to protect their interest.
“They are left to their own devices. Their limited options include selling the produce well below cost price and in extreme cases, ploughing the produce back into the fields out of frustration…
“Why is the poultry industry with its dominant large players treated so different? This is a fundamental question that needs to be answered in a wider context of Government policy towards businesses in Barbados,” Wood continued.
He described Weir’s comment that the price of poultry products has come down as too simplistic and vague.
He insisted that specific, factual information needs to be provided to substantiate this conclusion.
“Further, commonsense suggests that prices should come down in a glut situation. They certainly have not declined enough to erase the glut and eliminate the stockpile of frozen chicken which has been contributed to in a disproportionate way by the larger entities,” Wood reasoned.
“It is extremely costly to have large amounts of chicken sitting in cold storage; it makes more sense to sell them at fire sale prices and allow the consumers to do the stockpiling in their homes. Furthermore, if chicken prices have come down, explain the rationale for increasing the price of BADMC chicken wings by 20 per cent,” the former BLP minister countered.
He also responded to Weir’s statement that its (BADMC) core activities are not to be focused on the sale of wings [that] if it is jostling for market space to survive and must compete with local farmers to earn, then it has lost its way.
“Such a statement reflects the ignorance of the varied roles assigned to BADMC by successive administrations. First, the conferral of State Trading Enterprise status on BADMC allows it to regulate the supply of select imported poultry products to the local market. It also allows these products to be priced in an affordable way to the consumers,” Wood stated.
He said that while it is a commercial activity, this function generates the majority (about 70 per cent) of revenues for BADMC’s operations.
The former BADMC chairman said considering there is a monthly quota on poultry sales for the corporation means that the revenue from this source is assured since the market for these products is demand-driven.
“An entity which sells via a quota regime cannot be jostling for market space to survive. BADMC’s contribution to the market is assured and secured each and every month; the local producers are the ones who have to jostle for market space,” Wood stressed.
“If the minister (like the Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society) is convinced that BADMC should not be competing with local poultry farmers, then he should say so in explicit terms…
“…It makes no sense procrastinating about BADMC’s future. The workers, poultry producers and the rest of Barbados should be told if the current administration has a new plan for the Corporation,” suggested the ex-Minister of Agriculture.
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