Several Essequibo rice farmers on Monday picketed the National Assembly as the budget was being read despite assurances from the government that they would soon be paid monies owed to them.
Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy recently revealed that farmers were owed some $300M by millers and that his ministry would be moving to clear the debt. He explained that the ministry would recoup the money from the millers once they were paid for their shipments to neighbouring Venezuela.
But about two dozen placard-carrying individuals congregated beyond the barriers that ringed the Parliament Building Monday afternoon to voice their displeasure. “Farmers want early meeting with the president” one placard read while several others lambasted the Rice Producers Association for the representation it had afforded them.
“There is a serious situation going on right now in Essequibo where monies are being released by this present administration to pay farmers and they are not getting it. Farmers are not being paid the sums that are owed to them; if you’re owed a million you get a $500,000 cheque and the other five they give you either a post-dated cheque or tell you to come back or something of the sort,” farmer Nateram complained to opposition leader David Granger whom they had asked to meet.
The farmer acknowledged that they did meet Dr. Ramsammy last week but said they were dissatisfied with the interaction.
Granger told the group that the APNU was aware of their problems with funding in the sector.
“We support your demands that there should be a fund so that you have a stable price, you can depend on it, you can’t go from crop to crop wondering wuh gon happen, when yuh gon get pay,” he stated.
He added that the APNU would make representation on their behalf for the set up of a national fund to stabilise rice prices.
AFC executive member Moses Nagamootoo also spoke to the farmers and said they wanted a standing account with the commercial banks that would be accessible to the millers to ensure the farmers were paid in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, inside the Asembly, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh spoke about the “historic high” to which the rice industry had grown as a result of favourable market conditions.
He also announced that some $500M had been earmarked this year to boost the industry’s competitiveness and resilience.