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Dec 22, 2009

Citrus growers up in arms against Banks Holdings of Barbados

Story PictureA feud appears to be heading for a showdown between two warring factions in the citrus industry. It’s a complex story and its ramifications could be disastrous for the industry. It all stems from a 2006 agreement between Investment Company Limited (ICL), which is owned by the Belize Citrus Growers Association, and Banks Holdings of Barbados to buy Citrus Products of Belize Limited (C.P.B.L.). It seemed like a good investment at the time with the C.G.A. owning majority shares and expected to have majority representation on the board. But it has not been working out as planned and at this weekend’s special General Meeting of the C.G.A., its members alleged that there is collusion between its board members and Banks Holdings Limited. That’s because Banks Holdings helped to defeat a move to unseat Henry Canton, Frank Redmond and Mike Duncker; all members of the C.G.A.’s Board. The men have since resigned from the C.G.A. but still sit on the board of directors for C.P.B.L saying that they represent the C.G.A. even though they have resigned. The Citrus Growers Association feel they are without true representation, but more importantly, they feel that the Barbadian Company in collusion with Dunker, Canton and Redmond, is preventing the C.G.A. and ICL from receiving millions in possible dividends. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports from the citrus belt in the Stann Creek Valley.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
The citrus industry is over a hundred years old and the Citrus Growers Association has been in existence so far for at least fifty years. But the C.G.A. and the industry are under siege. The proverbial lion, clawing at the C.G.A.’s gate, is a well known Barbadian company, Banks Holdings. Byron Bowman chaired the growers A.G.M.

Byron Bowman, Chairman, C.G.A.
“They have taken control of our company, which we have fifty-one percent of. Growers it is our position that we should not be tolerating a foreign company coming to Belize to take over our company.”

There is need to get on the board of C.P.B.L. because the financial status of the company is questionable.

Byron Bowman
“This committee of management, through I.C.L., feels it needs to have its representation on the board of C.P.B.L.. We need to get answers; we need to get the facts as to what is happening here and it is difficult, if not impossible for us to get our information.”

Denzil Jenkins, Director C.G.A.
“The financials show that the company has, in accounting terms, retained earnings of some ten million dollars. Now according to the companies act, the law, as long as a company has positive retained earnings—what it is saying is over the years of operations, whether you have it in cash or not, the company has on the balance sheet in the financials an amount of money you can say saved. And that amount is ten million dollars and, therefore, it can pay a dividend but they are not declaring a dividend. We could easily be getting an earning of two million dollars. But we are getting zero.”

The C.G.A. owes thirteen million dollars for the first ten percent shares it invested in C.P.B.L.. Jenkins believes the C.G.A. will default on its loan and lose those shares to Banks Holdings because C.P.B.L. is refusing to declare dividends.

Denzil Jenkins
“C.G.A. through its investment company ICL owes the European Investment Bank some thirteen million dollars for the first ten percent shares that C.G.A. acquired in C.P.B.L.. And the shares that were bought with the money for the ten percent shares are the guarantee for that loan. That loan will be due for full payment by 2015. What is going to happen, that C.P.B.L. can continue not paying dividend or when they choose, pay a very small dividend so that we will not be able to pay the European Investment Bank for the first ten percent shares and we will lose them. And we have reason to believe that is deliberately being planned.”

Anthony Chanona, Member, Citrus Growers Association
“The fight is about these shares. I hope I’m wrong. Next year this time unless we get significant yields and better prices. There is going to be a lot less of us here than we are present today. I say to this mister chairman, if we’re going into a new year something has to change about this fight because we are going to slaughter each other. A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Anthony Chanona, a citrus Grower and former C.G.A. director, suggested that C.G.A. rescue the shares in C.P.B.L. by issuing them to all C.G.A. members.

Anthony Chanona
“Mister Zabaneh should get no more shares than mister Calam. If we were all used to get this factory we are all owners of these shares, give the growers these shares in their own names. They are going to die a drop out of this industry and they will look back and say “I was told I owned something there but the deeper pocket will always somehow survive in economic crisis more than the small man. Stand up for our growers; give them what belongs to them. Give them their shares.”

The chairman pointed out that maneuverings wouldn’t work as the agreement gives first choice to the Barbadians.

Bryon Bowman
“To go touch that fifty-one percent now, as you are saying, they have the right to re-buy a portion or whatever it is we intend to touch, separate, dis-fragment, or anything, they have the first call, on that. Having experienced what we have experienced in the last six months, I think it is very convincing, very compelling that our government hears and understands that here we have a foreign entity coming into our country, dictating, manipulating our industry that we have built. Unless the government is satisfied that there is a breach that is sufficient, then government can get involved.”

There will always be sweet oranges in the valley, but unless the courts or the government can help resolve the issues with Banks Holdings, the industry will continue to sour. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

C.G.A. chairman, Byron Bowman says that C.P.B.L. is expected to hold another board meeting in March of 2010. If the C.G.A. gets to remove the three directors, they intend to replace them with Denzil Jenkins, Rosella and Antonio Zabaneh.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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