Even as government is about to dole out GUY$500 million to ease the pressure that delayed payments for rice exports to Panama is having on millers and farmers, President David Granger said Friday that the failure to pay rice farmers was a private sector issue and that his government was being wrongfully targeted by rice farmers.
He contended that a major part of the problem facing that grain industry is the failure of millers to pay farmers which is a “private arrangement, it’s not a government arrangement.”
“Without making any accusation, sometimes the millers receive payment for their rice but don’t pay for their paddy. There are problems within the rice community which are not to be blamed on the Government of Guyana,” he told a news conference.
The Rice Producers Association (RPA), which is closely aligned to the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) has been staging protests against government in recent weeks, charging that the Granger-led administration was responsible for the loss of the lucrative Venezuelan paddy and rice market because of the way it has been handling the border controversy with that Spanish-speaking western neighbour.
Granger said rice farmers were wrongfully targeting government with their protests. “As far as this protest is concerned, it is misplaced. The paddy farmers should be protesting against the people who owe them money. We don’t owe them any money,” he said. Granger charged that there were “elements instigating protests” to falsely portray that the government was at fault.
Less than one hour before, top officials of the Agriculture Ministry announced that GUY$500 million would be made available to pay rice farmers because the Panamanian government has not honoured the Letter of Credit schedule. “The millers are hurting and are unable to pay the farmers, the Government will now have to get involved. The Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and the GRDB, is prepared to honour the first level of credit to pay the millers so that farmers can be paid with a sum of approximately $500 million, and this is what the Government is prepared to do almost immediately,” Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder told a news conference. He said that was because Panama has so far not paid for rice already shipped to that Central American country and the millers have no money to pay farmers.
In an effort to ease some of the pressure from millers, Holder said government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) would honour the first of the Letters of Credit.
Guyana intends to sell more than 4,000 tons of rice to Panama this year.
The rice sale agreement was brokered by the Guyana Rice Millers and Exporters Association but, according to Holder, Panama has since reverted to a government-to-government arrangement which Guyana does not favour.
While stressing that the rice industry is a private enterprise, the President said he was eager to market Guyana’s products and even recently made a rice-sale pitch to the President of the West African country of Senegal, Macky Sall on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. “We are searching for markets to help the private millers and farmers. We want the industry to survive and to prosper but we must look at the internal dynamics of the industry and you will discover that it’s a miller-farmer problem, not a government-rice problem,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Holder noted that due to Venezuela’s internal problems, it has been unable to move a shipment of Guyana’s rice from the wharf.
GRDB officials say negotiations were underway with several other potential buyers but they declined to provide details, saying that it would “unproductive” to do so at this time.