“The last choice:” The government is preparing to legislate on intervention in disputes between sugar associations

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Posted: Saturday, December 4, 2021. 3:59 PM CST.

By Aaron Humes: BELIZE CITY, Sat 4 December 2021

An amendment to the law on the sugar industry proposes to clarify the provisions relating to the elections of the officers of the Association; and empowering the Minister to receive and deal with disputes and complaints.

Outgoing Agriculture Minister Jose Abelardo Mai introduced the amendment at Friday’s House of Representatives meeting, said Belize’s gains – and its position in the region – could be threatened by conflict internal. It places in its hands and those of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) the ultimate power to fairly settle disputes with associations.

“This amendment, Mr. President, aims to correct what the Associations do not seem to be able to do among themselves. It is about defusing a situation that can break down and cause major chaos in the industry. The purpose of this amendment bill is to ensure that the sugar associations hold regular elections; Leaders who seek to represent hard-working cañeros should not be allowed to hold office without being accountable and continually submitting to the will of the people, ”said Mai.

According to Mai, he has heard complaints that association leaders, numbering four, have yet to hold elections scheduled for two years and the ministry’s attempts to intervene so far have failed. “This is not our first option; it’s the last choice, ”he explained.

On the debate, the representative of the Corozal Nord region, Hugo Patt, expressed concern that the amendment could be used inappropriately by a future office holder – and in fact the minister has already an “absolute power” over the management of associations under article 38A of the law. He also wondered if there had been consultation of associations, and if membership could be overridden, while noting that he was not accusing this minister of bad intentions.

Patt noted that the way to deal with complaints is first to the sugar association board, then to SICB, then to the minister, but the amendment effectively opens a clear path for the minister himself and many. associations have issues that they may not agree on. He said he feared this amendment would “rush” and “open a new box of worms.”

He was supported by his opposition colleagues Tracey Taegar-Panton and Patrick Faber, the old warning of a “slippery slope” by removing the autonomy of associations in critical decisions on associations and the rights of members of these associations.

The latter warned that “… the answer to this cannot be to stick to it by putting in a law and also in fact the law is a concern, but the biggest concern is the power that is going to be left in the hands of the minister and as I said it was with all due respect to the current minister who I think really wants to solve this problem. He also noted that in several recent pieces of legislation ministerial power has been increased, unlike #planBelize and the plan to reduce ministerial influence. It wouldn’t work the same way, he noted, in the case of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU), for example.

Prime Minister John Briceño noted that at present the laws do not oblige associations to follow their statutes, and despite letters to the authorities, some of these organizations have openly ignored the law, in at least one case. hiding behind the COVID protocol, he said. Worse yet, there is no accountability of an organization that has not met since its inception in 2016. He also noted that the government needs to protect Fairtrade funds entering associations and millers who might be in. danger if the protocol is not followed.

Another farmer and Orange Walk North regional representative Ramon Cervantes, Jr., noted that at least two associations have yet to hold elections and their leaders are “acting like dictators,” rather than following them. principles of democracy.

Mai closed the debate by repeatedly reiterating that he “personally is not thirsty for power”, but when there is blatant disregard for the statutes, kick out opponents and effectively bend the association to their will – ” it’s a disaster, ”he said. , especially when the government can do something, but it doesn’t. As for the COVID concern, the Minister of Health paved the way for such meetings to be held, subject to COVID protocols, but the offending association has always refused to have the meeting.

The bill has passed and will be submitted to the Senate on Monday.


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Rachel J. Bradford