by Zena Henry
With no immediate strategy to remedy the country’s newest economic dilemma-the loss of the rice industry’s biggest market- the newly elected A Partnership for National Unity +Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) administration and the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) are seeking to shell each other over the impending loss.
Government is accusing the former PPP administration of willfully hiding information that the lucrative Venezuela oil-for–rice deal would fall through.
Venezuela accounts for roughly 30 percent of all rice and paddy exports at higher than world market prices.
The PPP has however bumped the government saying that they are not the ones to blame, identifying the “brinksmanship and belligerence” stands of the government in handling the escalating territorial claim of Venezuela over Guyana’s maritime space.
The country’s Finance Minister recently announced that when the PetroCaribe agreement ends in November with Venezuela, they will not be renewing any contracts for the commodity. This is especially dangerous since of the few existing rice markets, Venezuela is the largest and most profitable.
On the Prime Minister’s office official Facebook page, it was stated that documentary evidence existed to show that the former Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy; former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett; and others were informed of the contract termination.
However, in their public statement, the PPP said that, “the non-renewal o fthe rice Agreement has nothing to do with the PPP/C, and perhapseven with rice, but with the rapiddeterioration of relations between Guyana and Venezuela since the Granger administration took office.”
The party said it has always held firm to the 1899 Arbitral Award which definitively settled Guyana’s border with Venezuela and supported by CARICOM and the Commonwealth. They said controversies and disagreements cannot be resolved through brinksmanship, belligerenceor name-calling(a la “monkeyon back”) and identified Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge’s statement to that the Venezuelan President “go talk with CARCIOM” over the dispute as a ‘no no’ especially around the said time that Guyanese representatives were heading to Venezuela to discuss the rice agreement.
The PPP defended its posture while in government, saying that on every occasion it had negotiated with the Venezuelans, Guyana had secured good terms, “even when there were heightened tensions in relation to the border controversy… and the PPP/C had announced that it was no longer interested in pursuing the UN Good Officer process and will be reviewing other options under the Geneva Agreement,” a position the Venezuelans did not support, the PPP said. “…The responsibility for the collapse of the rice agreement lies squarely with the de facto Government,” the PPP contends.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said that while Venezuela had indicated on a number of occasions that it would not have renewed the rice accord, there now appears to be a “tit-for-tat” liniked to the border row over Venezuela’s unilateral extension of its maritime space into Guyanese waters. “I think so. I also think that even wars end in talks and as far as I am aware there are absolutely no talks happening, no dialogue at all,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.
“I have noticed that they (Venezuela) have recalled the Ambassador for consultations- that’s a very strong sign that relations are deteriorating- the government took the decision of discontinuing the Conviasa flights because of some monies owed which I think was miniscule compared to the rice agreement and so the tit-for-tatting is what is playin out here,” she said.
However, the government is not the only one blaming the former government and its affiliates for the ailing market issue. Veteran rice operator Dr.Turhane Doerga said, it was Dharamkumar Seeraj of the RPA, former President Bharrat Jagdeo, Jagnarain Singh of the GRDB and then Minister of Agriculture Leslie Ramsammy, who on the campaign trail boasted that there was more than enough market and payment was not a problem.”
In a comment to Demerara Waves, Seeraj said that if the average price to millers falls, given the current situation,then farmers would earn less than GUY$3,000 per bag when the grain is sold at world market. But Doerga contended that, “the $3000 dollars Seeraj is referring to had already been reduced putting farmers back on the breadline.” He claimed, “that is the price farmers were getting while the “boys” siphoned of millions of US dollars.”
Doerga believes that the running rice contract is riddled with corruption, that, “it will show when we finish with our analysis; however we have delays as the information is not forthcoming from the GRDB where Mr. Singh still at the helm.”
“It is the previous contracts which we are adamant to see so we can prove that this group of people is responsible for putting the farmers back on the breadline.” Doerga believes that the PetroCaibe arrangement can be saved but has urged the government to let the “professionals” within the rice industry handle the matter.
The government says it is “aggressively” seeking new rice markets to address the problem. Other buyers – Brazil, Belize, Ghana, Haiti, Panama, and a number of Caribbean and European countries- are being tapped into.