Cabinet makes decision to go after another PPP/C Parliamentarian

Cabinet at its January 24 meeting decided to have the police investigate a $100M loan the Guyana Rice Producers Association’s (RPA), which was used to pay rice farmers. RPA Head, Dharamkumar Seeraj, is also a People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) Parliamentarian.
The Final Report of the Forensic Audit on the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) was handed over to Commissioner of Police, Seelall Persaud at his office yesterday, in the presence of Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Assistant Commissioner Sydney James. The report was handed over by Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Jaipaul Sharma. The audit was done by the firm, Nigel Hinds and Associates.

The loan agreement featured the signatures of former Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and was reportedly approved by former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh.

Ramsammy in explaining the matter in the past, had said, “The fact is that we did provide a sum of $100M to pay farmers from Region 3 who were not paid for the paddy sold in the first crop of 2014. The payments were made after farmers directly and through the RPA made representation for relief after Quality Rice Co-op failed to pay the farmers for paddy which they procured from the farmers.

“Quality Co-op procured an amount of paddy totaling more than $220M. Some of the farmers were shareholders of the Co-op, but others were rice farmers from Region 3 who sold their paddy to the Co-op. We decided we will pay those farmers who were not members of the Co-op.

“The RPA was engaged by the GRDB and the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate the payment, since we wanted to ensure that Quality Co-op did not use the resources to pay the members themselves.”

Meanwhile, Seeraj has addressed the matter several times in the National Assembly, in response to comments made by members in the Government benches. The head of the RPA, in prior comments, had said that the RPA had provided the GRDB with the list of farmers who were paid using the $100M.

Seeraj stressed that at the time farmers were not paid and litigation was pending between the co-op and the Ruimzeight Rice Mill which was hired by the former to mill the paddy for export to Venezuela. Seeraj said that he wanted to get farmers paid quickly because once the issue moved to the courts farmers would be left in the lurch.
He explained that the co-op was given a preliminary 4,000-tonne quota that was to be sold under the PetroCaribe Venezuelan Rice Agreement and at the time a tonne of paddy’s world market price was about US$500.

Seeraj made clear that the RPA was just used to facilitate the transfer of money to farmers but that the co-op and its members which include the proprietor of the rice mill, Turhane Doerga, were well aware that they would be responsible for paying back the funds.

Notably, the audit into GRDB was ordered by the government since June of 2015. Over the last few weeks, Seeraj and the RPA has been at the forefront of protests against what has been deemed the “draconian” increased forced on farmers by the current Coalition Government, via the Mahaica, Mahaicony Abary Agriculture Development Authority (MMA/ADA).

RPA Head and PPP/C MP, Dharamkumar Seeraj, addressing farmers during a protest outside the MMA/ADA Region 5 office

The Cabinet decision also comes days before Seeraj and other stakeholders are set to meet with the MMA/ADA Board of Directors, tomorrow (Friday, January 27) on the matter. The RPA has called for the land rental fees remain the same, until there are broad based consultations with farmers in the MMA area.