Farmers employed at four government-owned estates in Grenada are not happy with the moves being made by the new Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration to commercialise them.
The farmers told Government Ministers at a meeting last week in St. Andrew’s that if they cannot manage four estates how then could the Government manage a country.
One farmer in particular made the remarks in response to a comment from Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Senator Simon Stiell from the sister isle of Carriacou that government cannot manage estates and that the private sector was better suited to do it.
More than sixty farmers attending the meeting at Bain’s Hall in Grenville to hear a major presentation from Sen. Stiell who argued strongly that the records will show that government cannot manage the estates on the island.
The farmer was loudly applauded by other farmers when he questioned the ability of the Mitchell government to look after the affairs of the entire country if it cannot manage four estates.
His response brought an almost immediate reaction from Minister of Agriculture, Roland Minister Bhola, the Parliamentary representatives for St. Andrew North-east who sought to bring clarity to Stiell’s presentation that government cannot manage the estates.
According to Bhola, what his Parliamentary Secretary was saying is that the facts before them clearly shows that the private sector does a better job of managing than the public sector.
He said that workers often produce less working for the State but under the private sector the workers are more energetic.
However, many of the farmers present at the meeting continued to question the aggressiveness of the efforts on the part of the Mitchell government to commercialize the four estates – Belle Vue, Mt Reuil in St. Patrick, Grand Bras in St. Andrew and the one in Carriacou.
Sen. Stiell who chairs the commercialisation committee, which includes representatives Fitzroy James of the Grenada Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB), attorney-at-law Francine Foster of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, as well as Micheal Mitchell of the Grenada Trades Union Council among others, said that by the end of November recommendations will be presented to Cabinet for the commercialization of the estates.
He said that any one interested in submitting a bid for one of the estates can do so since it will be an open process.
Speculation is rife in the country that some of the persons convicted for the 1983 bloody murder of left-leaning Prime Minister Maurice Bishop are interested in taking over the estate.
One of them – a former army officer – is already running a privately-owned estate in the St. John’s area.
During the meeting, Minister Bhola assured the farmer that the Cabinet will have the final say on how the government will proceed on the commercialisation of the State-owned estates.
However, many of the farm workers expressed the view that the government had already decided who it was going to give the farms and the consultation was just a charade.
One farmer asked the ministers which of the four estates was the most unproductive but neither Bhola or Stiell could provide an answer.
The two Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that they did not have the data.
Another female farmer quizzed the ministers on the reasons for privatising all four estates at the same time and why not one at a time starting with the one which is less productive – again the ministers could not give answers.
Sen. Stiell said that for every four dollars spent on the estate, the government gets back one and it can no longer afford to make such investments.
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that the government spent just over four million dollars on the four estates between 2008 and 2012, but the farms generated income of just over one point three million dollars.
For their part, the unions representing the farmers – the Bank and General Workers Union, and the Grenada Manual, Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union of the late Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy, are demanding that the government ensure job security for the workers as part of its privatisation process.
In a document presented – it states that 102 workers are employed on the estates and high unemployment is a grave concern for the unions.
The statement also noted that most of the workers expressed their civic duties and voted with great expectation on February 19 for the Mitchell government but now it seems that their hopes are being put down by the policies being pursued by the current regime.