Fake accusations

JMA gives Samuda seven days to present evidence of refined sugar leakage

BY KARENA BENNETT
Business reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 22, 2017

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Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) President Metry Seaga yesterday labelled Minister Karl Samuda's claims of a leakage of refined sugar within the manufacturing industry as “fake accusations” that have gravely defamed and slandered the entire industry.

Seaga levelled the charge at an emergency press briefing to address Samuda's announcement on Wednesday of the introduction of a ministerial order that will see the granting of licences to import refined (granulated) sugar for the retail trade administered by the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) to three approved marketing agents.

Under the new regime, the three agents — Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, Golden Grove Sugar Company, and Jamaica Cane Products Sales — will source, import, market, and distribute the product to other companies.

According to Samuda, this measure was being taken in an attempt to “stop the leakage of refined sugar imported by manufacturers, duty-free, as raw material for manufactured products, from entering the retail trade”.

Currently, the system allows for anyone to apply to the trade board for a permit to import refined sugar for retail use, which attracts a 129 per cent duty. However, manufacturers who use the product as a sweetener pay no additional charge.

But, according to a recent report, Samuda, the minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, was unable to state the number of manufacturers involved in the illegal action. Nonetheless, he said that he is advised that there is sufficient evidence that it has taken place.

But yesterday Seaga shot down Samuda's claim.

“Let me be clear, over all these years, and on multiple occasions, no evidence of leakage by any manufacturer has been provided by either Jamaica Customs or the ministry,” the JMA president said.

“When broad accusations are hurled around by the minister of industry, our minister, a member of the Government, it is putting on record, not only to the people of Jamaica, but internationally, that approximately 200 manufacturers involved in our food subsector are guilty of a crime,” he said, adding that Minister Samuda would not stand for the defamation of his character, and likewise, the over 450-member strong association will not stand for the defamation of the industry and its 80,000 workers.

Seaga then gave Samuda an ultimatum to either provide evidence or retract the allegations in seven days or the JMA will be forced to consider its options.

“If we do not get a public retraction within seven days we will be going to a special board meeting. I got a call this morning from the CEO of one of our largest members, GraceKennedy, and he said this is not tenable. They are an international organisation; they're not a fry fish shop, and they are treating this issue like it is a fry fish issue — it's not,” the obviously disturbed JMA president told journalists.

He said JMA has, on numerous occasions, asked Minister Samuda and others to go ahead and name and shame the companies involved in the illegal activity and it will stand with the Government in doing so.

“But if you can't, you must stop this wholly unsubstantiated and unjustifiable throwing of fake accusations. It is simply irresponsible of persons in high office to defame and slander an entire industry without any proof,” Seaga said.

As far back as 1999 the JMA has been in consultation with the Government on the best way to manage the importation of the commodity and to enhance competitiveness. The most recent effort was in 2015 when the JMA put forward a three-point plan, which suggested that the duty of 180 per cent on the importation of the product was protecting no one since neither Jamaica nor any other country within the region refines sugar.

The JMA also suggested that the SIA be the sole importer of sugar for the retail trade; package it in specially marked packages; and, most importantly, police the system.

“We all go to the supermarket and we all see these plain plastic bags filled with sugar. People are buying a puss in a bag. So the minister needed to do something, and what he has done is not what we have our problem with, it is the basis on which he has done it,” Seaga said.

“He is saying he had to do it because sugar brought in for manufacturers ended up in the retail trade, and if that is so, we want to know who is it so that we can get them out of the association, and the minister should want to know so that he can get them arrested. Customs should want to know so that they can collect their revenue, and it is unfair and improper for them to be placing that blame squarely at the feet of manufacturers without any proof,” Seaga said.

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