After almost one year of having been given the mandate to manage the affairs of the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association (GCNA), some members of the governing Board are still unaware of what has happened to the Association’s reserved fund.
Three members of the Board, Clifford Robertson, Dr. Francis Antoine and Naline Joseph who were guests on the weekly “Sundays With George Grant” program all appeared lost about what could have happened to the reserved fund which is used to distribute equally among nutmeg producers based on their production.
GCNA was formed in March 1947.
The objectives of GCNA are to ensure that there is a fairly stableprice for the nutmegs from farmers, as well as to ensure that the farmers get an equitable share in the profit obtained from the sale of nutmegs, and to ensure that the quality of the local nutmeg is of a high standard so that it can receive a better price on the international market.
Dr. Antoine told the host of the program that the Ordinance governing
GCNA declares that the Association is required to have a reserved fund, and according to him over the years “some of the Chairmen of the Boards interfered with the cess (reserved) fund to the point where when we got onto the Board last year the cess fund was non existent.”
Dr. Antoine disclosed that the Nutmeg Board is in the process of investigating what happened to the fund.
“We got into the Board in August of last year, so since then we’ve been doing our home work to gather the necessary information,” he said.
The Board member pointed out that when the new Board was appointed the financial statement received showed that theoretically the reserved fund should have been approximately $26M, and when enquired about it they were told, “it is not there but it is in the form of assets,” without the farmers themselves being aware that their reserved fund was being used to create assets.
Dr. Antoine said the new Board which is now chaired by Leo Cato has committed itself to re-establish the reserved fund which he said helps to stabilise the price of nutmegs.
Robertson disclosed that GCNA now owns about 22 buildings throughout Grenada.
He said initially the reserved fund was used to erect GCNA buildings, but after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 money was not contributed to the reserved fund as the various Boards felt that in their own whims and fancy to use the money either to distribute more of the funds or to do whatever they wanted with it.
Robertson disclosed that in 2004 a huge number of nutmegs were sold and brought in $20M and a net surplus of $10M was declared.
He emphasised that under the ordinance once the surplus is declared, it has to be distributed among the farmers, but instead the then Board made the decision to invest the money in Clico and British American without the knowledge of the farmers.
Joseph, the other member who appeared as part of the panel, gave a different twist to the missing reserved fund.
She said that GCNA is now reaping the benefits of investments made by previous Boards of Directors.
However, she indicated that the farmers who are part owners of GCNA should have been informed of the investments that were undertaken by previous Boards.
“The Board should have informed and get the support of the farmers in
relation to the issue..”, she remarked.
Meanwhile, the three members of the GCNA Board of Directors who were on the program are not supportive of calls being made to liberalise the nutmeg industry.
Joseph called for a cautious approach to be adopted should the nutmeg industry be liberalised.
She indicated that GCNA is the sole organisation in the country responsible for handling the island’s nutmeg which is referred to as “Grenada’s Black Gold” from the time it is received at the nutmeg processing station to the time of export.
She said liberalisation will now mean that other persons can come into the industry and have the ability to do the same thing at a time when GCNA is trying to protect the quality of the local product.
“If other persons are allowed to do that (purchase and export nutmegs) then we do not know what will happen, that could be easily compromised,” she feared.
Robertson who was very critical of government’s call to have the industry liberalized felt that it is a move to break up the association and returned it to the pre-1947 era where individuals can purchase and export nutmegs on their own.
He explained that GCNA is now the only authorized body that can purchase and export nutmegs, and it is the law of Grenada through the Nutmeg Ordinance.
The long serving farmer said since 1947 one of the strongest selling points GCNA has had is that manufacturers in Europe and North America who purchase Grenada Nutmeg know the source from where it came.
There are currently 3500 active nutmeg farmers on the island.
Dr. Antoine who also had reservations about liberalising the nutmeg industry said that over the years the money farmers receive from the sale of nutmegs has played a major role in the welfare of their families.
He said by having some people once again benefiting from the nutmeg trade it could be a disadvantage to the society which he said is not good for Grenada.
Presently, a group of organic nutmeg producers have expressed a willingness to get permission to start exporting their nutmegs outside of the GCNA set up.
A leading member of the group, Shadel Nyack-Compton who runs Belmont Estate has denied allegations levelled at her that she had been making direct approaches to GCNA’s overseas buyers to purchase her organic nutmegs.