Charles Jr says JAS self-reliance being probed
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr says the Government intends to support the Jamaica Agricultural Society in becoming independent. He was speaking at a recently held Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

MINISTER of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr on Monday said the process of supporting the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) to become an independent institution is continuing.

Speaking at a Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange press briefing this week, Charles Jr said that his position has been consistently in favour of the Government maintaining financial support for the society.

"My comments have been consistent. We are in a process now. I think that we are at the end of the verification phase with the Jamaica Agricultural Society. There is an intention to support the JAS becoming independent, and that process is continuing and it is at a stage where they are still doing assessments to see if approval is the most appropriate approach," the minister said.

"My understanding is that the JAS itself has no issue with being independent, and that it would not mean that the Government wouldn't be there to support the JAS. The Government will continue to be there for segments of agriculture and will continue to give support wherever it is necessary," he added.

However, the JAS had reported in July that it had been served notice by the Government that it will be taken off the budget in less than a year's time. President of the society, Lenworth Fulton said that it had received notice that it would be removed from the budget by May 2023.

"That came out of a meeting in June with the Pricewaterhouse team saying that, based on the Cabinet decision, they want us [JAS] off their books," Fulton was reported as saying.

He said that, in response, a JAS team would be seeking a meeting with the Government to discuss its transitional position, which could leave the fate of its staff, who are currently considered public servants, in the hands of the Government.

Fulton was also quoted as saying that the JAS would seek a carry-on grant from the Government for at least three years, to allow the society to hire persons on contract to continue the operations until it gets back on its feet.

He was also quoted as asking that the Government absorb all the society's current debts, since it is subscribed by an Act of 1940 which makes it a government institution.

But Charles said that since becoming minister of agriculture, and in January 2022, his conversations with the JAS have been about advancing the process of the society becoming efficient enough to handle that independence.

"We want the JAS to be committed to ensuring that it is an institution that is efficient in terms of achieving its goals," the minister said.

The Jamaica Agricultural Society was formed in 1895 to stimulate the interests of all categories of farmers in the island in agricultural pursuits, and to establish a forum where all farmers could meet, discuss their problems to initiate plans, elect officers, and to do all other things necessary for the welfare of the farming community. However, since 2020 there has been speculation that the Jamaica Agricultural Society Incorporation Act is to be to be repealed, and the society become a non-governmental organisation.

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior Observer writer

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