KINGSTON, Jamaica – Opposition Spokesman on Agriculture, Lothan Cousins, has called for an investigation into what he alleges is the continued illegal importation of chicken parts, including leg quarters, into the country.
Cousins made the charge on Tuesday during his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Gordon House.
Without revealing much, Cousins told his colleagues that "Just this (Tuesday) morning I got a call from a trader that indicated that he was being approached with illegal leg quarter imports".
He asked Agriculture Minister Pearnel Charles Jr, who was present in the chamber, whether he was aware of the illegal activity.
"If you are not aware of it, minister, I’m urging you to launch an investigation as soon as possible to treat with this issue," Cousins told Charles, while also urging the Minister of Finance, Dr Nigel Clarke, to “take a keen note of this practice to save what is left of the credibility of this government”.
Cousins said the problems with the importation of chicken back and necks have persisted despite Clarke advising that the policy had been revamped and that the new measures would have been implemented on April 1, 2021.
Cousins referenced a report from the Integrity Commission on the import regime for chicken back and necks which was tabled in the House in December 2020. The report pointed to a lack of transparency and accountability and a compromised award process that effectively hindered competition.
“The report also referenced the illegal packing of dutiable premium parts into containers declared as chicken back or necks, which are non-dutiable.
"These findings were listed as some of the troubling factors which needed immediate correction," Cousins said.
He noted that the commission’s report also contained recommendations for the immediate cessation of issuing permits for chicken back and necks, under the prevailing arrangements.
"Importantly, the report strongly called for a new import arrangement policy to ensure transparency and accountability, especially in the receipt and processing of applications,” he said.
He said several Cabinet ministers had “promised transparency and accountability, yet companies with no investment in a productive endeavor or investment outlay in the meat distributive trade are benefitting by receiving import permits for chicken back.
“This is a very dangerous practice,” Cousins warned.
He also warned that the practice of granting import permits for chicken back to people with very little to zero institutional involvement in the meat trade is very dangerous.
“With minimal credibility to lose, as institutional traders, these individuals take risks by bringing dutiable prime poultry cuts and other prime meats into the country, using the advantage of the duty-free status afforded to chicken back. Additionally, these same individuals also convert the import permits into cash benefits by selling to legitimate traders, thereby adding another margin on the poor,” said Cousins.