Stanberry reveals itself in a treaty on the liberalization of the sugar industry | News

The treatise of Dr. Donovan Stanberry, Registrar of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, How Trade Liberalization Affects a Sugar-Dependent Community in Jamaica: Global Action; Local impact is a damning indictment of the failure of successive political administrations, ministers of agriculture, managers of sugar plantations across Jamaica and other stakeholders who held key portfolios in local industry and regional government, some of whom still hold these positions, and their role in condemning entire communities in the sugar-dependent areas (SDAs) to a state of scarcity from which they have been unable to extricate themselves.

At last Wednesday’s launch at Mona’s Undercroft campus, which included readings from the book which is now available on Amazon and will be in the UWI bookstore two weeks from the launch date, Stanberry, the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, brought to light disturbing revelations, clarified some myths and offered insight into experiments that went horribly wrong and left residents of his beloved hometown of Vere, Clarendon and others SDA mired in poverty and locked in a vicious and endless cycle of anarchy.

This, despite an investment of some 84 million euros from the European Union (EU) under the Banana Accompanying Measures, which was a program aimed at diversifying the economies of the SDAs and which the former Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke, called it a funeral subsidy.

The social transformation program of the SDAs began in earnest in early 2009 following the development of the Sugar Zone Development Programs in 2008, through which the government spent over $9.3 billion across all SDAs in the region. Jamaica, including more than $2.2 billion in the Vere area of ​​Monymusk. , Clarendon. This money was distributed in the form of grants to vulnerable workers who were made redundant, and also spent on housing development, the expansion of the sugar cane road, the development of agro-parks, vocational training, rehabilitation sports facilities and a variety of small infrastructure projects.

According to Stanberry, this program represented the largest in scope and intensity in terms of socio-economic programs ever implemented.

Ironically and tragically, despite such big spending by successive administrations, the net social impact of the failed divestments has manifested itself in the ADS in fewer community entertainment events, reduced support for sports and an increase marked by criminal activity. , including predial flight, according to Stanberry.

He claimed that the empirical evidence of the research reported in the book, gleaned from interviews and surveys with former sugar workers and residents of the Monymusk area, as well as the case study of the greater Monymusk area, indicate that residents have not perceived any improvement. in their lives.

“Residents said their quality of life had deteriorated, although they were (only) able to meet their basic needs, thanks to remittances and help from family. Vere is the only place in Jamaica that I know of that looks worse today than it did 40 years ago, and that’s not hyperbolic. Nothing has been able to replace sugarcane so far,” he told the audience. Sugar production has declined every year since 1965, when production peaked at over 500,000 tonnes

In fact, Stanberry blames inertia and apparent intellectual paralysis on the part of all of the aforementioned stakeholders as the main reason for Jamaica’s failure to modernize its sugar cane industry and move into sugar cane development. other sugar by-products, such as bagasse for energy production, ethanol and even white plantation sugar, as Belize and Mauritius have done in the face of the collapse of preferential markets.

The writing had been on the wall in bold, shiny type right from the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations since 1986, when there was global turmoil to free agricultural trade.

“Thus, successive governments must take some responsibility for this lack of modernization, not only as the main sugar producer since the late 1970s, but above all for resisting attempts by private estates to switch to mechanized harvesting. . These attempts were rebuffed because mechanization, while increasing the efficiency and profitability of the sector, would eliminate the need to employ large pools of semi-skilled people in the sugar belt.

“This inertia towards investments in the sugar industry is disconcerting, given the crucial importance of the sugar industry to the nation in terms of foreign exchange earnings, employment and maintaining the social fabric of the SDA. Could this paralysis on the part of government and other industry players be symptomatic of a deep dependency that the plantation economy has engendered for so long? Could this inaction serve to perpetuate poverty in the SDAs, with industry being just a big sponge to mop up the large pool of rural unemployed and keep them in poorly paid jobs? said the former permanent secretary at the launch.

“No ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) country, no government with a ministry of foreign affairs worthy of the name can deny that the transition to the liberalization of agricultural trade has taken a long time to prepare and has intensified year after year, but we were paralyzed and did nothing.

Government involvement and investment in the sugar industry began in 1970 under the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) administration of Hugh Shearer, when the British company Tate and Lyle, which held a 70% stake in the industry, signaled its intention to get out of the cultivation of sugar cane, but retain the factories in order to maintain the distillation aspect of the rum, which was the lucrative part of the industry.

So in 1970 the government bought Monymusk Sugar Estate in Clarendon and Frome Estate in Westmoreland from Tate and Lyle, and Bernard Lodge in St Catherine. But it was in 1972 that the state really got involved and the People’s National Party (PNP) administration led by Michael Manley launched the sugar cooperative experiment. It was at a time when all the sugar factories were starting to crumble under the weight of mounting debts and lack of profitability that the government became the main player and formed the National Sugar Company.

Following the failure of the sugar cooperative system, which he described as a noble experiment full of good intentions, the PNP, under Manley’s leadership, launched the first round of divestments in 1993. Stanberry, who worked in the JLP and PNP administrations as permanent secretary, was scathing in his assessment of what happened.

“He was literally handing over assets, including factories, to private individuals, and that also failed. Within four years, the estates were returned to the government for $1, but with a debt of $2.8 billion. Both government interventions, up to the last one, which is rather the subject of this book, were in fact failures,” he said.

By 2010, the JLP had formed the government and the Minister of Health and Welfare, Dr Christopher Tufton, was then responsible for the agriculture portfolio. He attended the launch and explained that the divestment process was actually an exercise in futility. He revealed that the Chinese were not the investors of choice.

“The truth is that the industry had reached a stage where unless heavily subsidized it simply could not function. When we attempted to sell the assets, when they were exposed to a potentially willing buyer , there weren’t many takers. The Chinese, I think, were the fourth stop. I think we started with Infinity Bioenergy in Brazil, then we went to Italy, we approached, I think, an entity I understand they flew over in a helicopter and didn’t bother to land, after just looking at the condition of the properties, and finally we ended up having the Chinese and of course a local band who came, and we almost could pay them to take the assets that were left here.

Should Stanberry take some of the blame for the colossal failure to properly divest the sugar industry, as well as the state of the SDAs following the accompanying measures, given his pivotal role as permanent secretary during this critical period?

Responding to Tufton, whom he admitted to being a master of difficult tasks, Stanberry offered this justification for what happened then.

“In hindsight, Mr. Minister, I think there is no way the government can bear … well, not in hindsight. I knew, even from then on, that there was no way for the government to continue to carry a debt of almost 40 billion dollars on the national budget, and that in the post-FINSAC period. . We worked hard and we got there, and the book commends the government for the social programs we’ve undertaken, spending more than $9 billion in sugar-dependent communities in a short time. It’s no small thing.

“I even became an entrepreneur. I had to go to Westmoreland, every week on the road, to make sure the houses were built; NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) was suing me and the Ministry of Health was suing me because the proper sewage system was not in place. So it was hard work that was necessary, but not enough.

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Rachel J. Bradford