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Sep 26, 2012

Sugar concession bill passes; Opposition says it’s not sweet

Government today introduced and passed, in one sitting of the House of Representatives, a bill that provides major tax breaks and exemptions as part of the sale of the Belize Sugar Industries to the American Sugar refinery.  Copies of the bill which repeals a previous law, were only circulated on Monday afternoon.  Cane Farmers who got hold of the bill on the same day have written to the Prime Minister asking for consultations and for similar concessions which gives BSI retroactive tax exemptions, partial exemptions up to 2016, environmental tax exemptions and a monopoly on the export of sugar and molasses’ for ten years . After Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project, the debate got underway. 

 

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

The Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project Development Incentives Bill was presented as the American Sugar Refinery rescue of the industry.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“It is part of a development now which represents the rescue of the sugar industry in this country and which guarantees the long-term viability and prosperity of that industry and of the six thousand cane farmers that are the principal drivers of the industry. American Sugar Refinery, in return for assuming the entire debt, will become the beneficiary of additional shares issued by B.S.I so that at the end of the day there will be something like a seventy-eight percent to twenty-two percent ownership structure of B.S.I. under which arrangement, ASR will hold majority shares to the tune of this roughly seventy-eight percent and the Government of Belize, Booker Tate and, of course, the Employees Trust representing the actual workers at B.S.I. will together hold the other twenty-two percent.”

 

The current B.S.I. debt and the investment promised by ASR would amount to one hundred million U.S., sixty million alone to pay the current B.S.I. debt. But the Opposition Leader says that the cane farmers are unsettled by the ASR concessions.

 

Francis Fonseca

Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition

“We have no quarrel with incentives, Mister Speaker, in principle. We recognize that these things are part of a difficult, but necessary part of the global economy; of doing business in that global economy. Our problem and our concern—and every member of this side has raised it—is that there has been an absolute lack of opportunity for those who, you say you are acting in their interest, the cane farmers, but for them to have an opportunity to properly discuss this matter and for our representatives to engage and consult with them. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister talk about Mister Aban, Ramon Aban, calling Mister Novelo last night. It is Mister Aban, Deputy Prime Minister, it is he who has sent a letter to the Prime Minister; it is Mister Aban who has sent a letter out to the Belizean people, to the members, the media to say that we have learned through the media that you intend to present a bill entitled, “Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project Act 2012,” at the sitting of the House of Representatives—through the media. Why is it that the government not informed these people that you intended to table this legislation today?”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“The letter that the Leader of the Opposition took to read and recite from is what it is. I won’t get into a back and forth with the chairman of the B.S.C.F.A. I will say this; somebody over there asked about what is in writing. The cane farmers met with us when we met with ASR. At some point after that, I believe I did have a conversation with somebody indicating that were concessions—it might have been at that meeting because we met with them confidentiality; that these people would be asking for concessions. the only think I undertook to do was to tell them how matters would progress as to whether the Government of Belize could agree to the concessions in order for the project to go through. I never undertook to consult with the cane farmers as to the extent to which we could go. The concessions don’t hurt the cane farmer in any way.”

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, Area Representative, Orange Walk Central

“So we do understand, Mister Speaker, the need for investment in the sugar industry; especially with B.S.I. and BELCOGEN who are in desperate need of additional capital or fresh capital. Therefore, we on this side of the House Mister Speaker, look at this bill with much interest—interest on how the passage of this bill will attract new capital investments into the sugar industry. But before we can support this bill, Mister Speaker, there are several issues of concern and would like some answers and clarifications.”

 

Marco Tulio

Marco Tulio, Area Representative, Orange Walk East

“After having met and discussed this bill with many cane farmers from Orange Walk, Mister Speaker, their first question was why were we not consulted. That’s an echo that most of the cane farmers are saying; why were we not informed of all these tax exemptions and gifts being given to ASR.”

 

Mark King

Mark King, Area Representative, Lake Independence

“Mister Speaker I rise to support this bill; but not just o support this bill, but to educate the opposition on why this bill is excellent to attract capital investment into the sugar industry of this country that they couldn’t do, Mister Speaker, for the last ten years in government.”

 

Pablo Marin

Pablo Marin, Area Representative, Corozal Bay

“We the nortenos that are sitting down in this honorable House will support a bill for the sake of the cane farmers and if there is anyone not supporting this bill, can only be seen as someone that does not care for its people.  As the opposition, they only want to see this industry collapse so that they have something to talk bad about this government.”

 

Ramiro Ramirez

Ramiro Ramirez, Area Representative, Corozal South West

“The member of Corozal Bay the beat his chest saying that he knows about this business. He noh know nothing about this sugar industry. I could bet to him that I know more, more than him. So one, let us be realistic on this honorable House.”

 

Michael Peyrefitte, House Speaker

“Members of the gallery, one more and I will ask you to leave.”

 

Francis Fonseca

“They are saying that we oppose the granting of this unrestricted right to export raw sugar and molasses for ten years. They are saying that we are concerned about section eight of the Bill and we would like the government to grant the farmers the same duty exemptions for the same period. It is only fair and just that our farmers receive the necessary assistance to enable them to expand their cane production at a low and reasonable cost and not be displaced by ASR. You see; that brings me to the fundamental point; they are afraid that they will be displaced by American Sugar Refining.”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Absent ASR, the sugar industry in this country would have collapsed; that the bottom line. The price, if you want to see it in those terms, the price that we have to pay by way of these fairly standard concessions to ASR is well worth paying so that not only can the industry survive; so that it can grow and prosper. That time bomb with respect to the call from INC Bank for their money to be paid; the additional grace period that extended, runs out at the end of this month. ASR will pay them off—as it will pay off the government—first week of next month, but in order to do it, this bill needs to be passed. And that is why we are trying to do it all at once today and have the senate meet on Friday. Nothing should stand in the way of our effort to ensure that the extinction that the sugar industry was facing is in fact removed. I have a friend who will no doubt be pleased to hear me say, Mister Speaker; this was an existential threat and it is a existential threat that has now be deemed its quietus as a consequence of the actions of the Government of Belize.”

 

The bill went through its three readings and was passed by the house. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

 

In the letter to the prime minister, dated September twenty-fifth, the cane farmers complained that despite assurances by the PM in May, they were not consulted on the terms and conditions, which are being granted to ASR. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association also describes the package to ASR as unfair and excessive and that the exemptions are, “aimed at making the rich richer and the poor poorer and will not advance the government’s pro-poor policy.” The B.S.C.F.A. also expresses concern over the government’s decision to provide the unrestricted right to B.S.I. to export raw sugar and molasses for ten years. It calls for a marketing committee to be established to deal with the issue. 

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11 Responses for “Sugar concession bill passes; Opposition says it’s not sweet”

  1. Storm says:

    MONOPOLIES SHOULD BE ILLEGAL! Free and open competition serves the consumer and the economy best.

    [Monopolies have a role to protect a strategic national industry, perhaps, like military weapons production. This was only to protect strategic bribes, kickbacks, and political "contributions," I'm sure.]

  2. Ricky Malthus says:

    ASR could have bought BSI and make great profits without obtaining this “stick up” of the Belizean population hard pressed already through oppressive taxation and unemployment. Besides, this is a poor piece of legislation as it awards a pure , naked monopoly to a foreign element and disbars or even criminalize any other company from producing and exporting sugar except through ASR. This is foolishness and contrary to USA anti-trust laws which prohibits concentrated economic power in one company or group of companies because it impedes or is not conducive to democracy. Will other home grown companies be able to produce and export their sugar on the world market or will they be forced to sell and export only through ASR. If the latter is true, then as Belizeans would say, we have been properly “caca-crotched”. What is wrong in Belize? Don’t we have educated people to analyse these gross economic,financial, and political crippling decisions? I bet Barrow and his brother wouldn do this to their businesses. This is truly a holocaust and terror visited on this country.

  3. BELIZEAN says:

    Good!! Deal done!! Lets start working. Farmers, put on your working boots and be happy that you will be able to work for your bread!!! Shut up and live

  4. Rod says:

    Belizean you are a total ignoramus of the worse kind its people like you that have this country in the mess it’s in I really know that you are living in the us and you are voicing your stupid comments from afar because I know of no belizean that is that stupid you must have been barrows class mate the two of you used to sit in the corner with dunce hat pa unu head.

  5. alley cat says:

    Whole lot of noise about nothing. Sounds like the oppositions whole argument is about the process and not receiving enough notice as oppose to debating the contents and if the concessions are good for the Sugar industry. I don’t like monopolies but if their is only one sugar refinery and it is still being bailed out from pass financial problems then the investors that are sinking money into the company should have some protections on their investment and a 10 year monopoly on export is justifiable.

  6. Louisville,Ky says:

    Ricky Malthus, bla bla bla bla! You grinding an axe, boy.
    You …itched about the collapse of the sugar industry, now you are …itching about the strategies put in placed to move it forward. It is obvious that to you, this administration is damned if it do, and damned if it don’t.
    Methinks you man, are one of those responsible for running this country into the ground and into this unenviable position that it is in. Stop di suck pahn sour pokonoboy.
    Light a candle instead of continuosly cursing the dark, my bwai.

  7. Gone fishing says:

    Belize re-elected UDP, unless the election was rigged.
    Either way, time for a new amendment to get rid of elections and the courts, to protect Belize.
    It is too much to ask for these people working in the sugar farming to be consulted about sugar legislation. They should know, just like the opposition, they have no place in making decisions or having opinions. Next they will think their opinions are valid, which is unacceptable.
    Belize voted, ride that horse.

  8. Jose says:

    I Agree with Ricky, above. With the price of sugar, ethanol etc in the world market, there is no need for gifts…huge profits stand to be made. Ask Green Tropics, who is getting the shitty end of the deal, because they will have to sell to ASR because of the monopoly…What a shame.

  9. ceo says:

    This kind of behavior should never be tollerated. If it is so good why were they afraid to show it allowing enough time for scrutiny before they voted on it. The devil is always in the details! I am sure there is some sort of mess in it.

    How can they take away the farmers right to seel their product to who they want to? This is wrong and there should never be a monopoly!

    I would like to see what they would do if the farmers decided to burn their field one year and not seel their cane to the factory? There would be no sugar and the factory would close down and if they had any sense they would come to their senses then and allow the cane farmers autonomy.

    Check the history of America those that know or care to know. The Boston Tea Party may have been triggered because of slightly different circumstances but the end result would be the same. The guys selling tea dumped it all in the harbor because great britton was not playing fair.

    Cane farmers you want to force changes and force control of your own destiny? You can do the same!

  10. Seletar says:

    I’m with you, @ceo.

    It’s time for the cane farmers to revolt, somehow, some way.

    20 or so years ago Japanese fish buyers got a monopoly on salmon in Alaska in the US, and suddenly the price the fishermen got for their catch dropped by 75% in one year — not enough to pay for supplies, let alone make a profit. And it has not really recovered since.

    Competition improves the breed and protects everyone, they get paid by the law of supply & demand. WHY SHOULDN’T OUR CANE FARMERS BE ABLE TO SELL TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER? Barrow guaranteed that ASR will be the only bidder, so they can pay as little as they like, and the farmers have to take whatever crumbs they are offered.

    It’s immoral, Mr. PM. Are Belizeans just slaves to ASR?

  11. Louisville,Ky says:

    Cane farmers were in debt to the tune of $65 million dollars. $65,000,000.00!!! What part of that do some of YOU people not understand?
    @ ceo,You want them to grow the cane then turn around and burn it instead of delivering it to ASR? Wouldn’t that be the height of childish stupidity? Or maybe you can encourage them to cut off their nose to spite their face also. No lunch is free mister man. Pay now, or pay later. But, pay you must.

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