The 3-year old New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has expressed disappointment with the management of one of the two state farms handed over to the private sector as part of the privatisation of state-owned farms.
Agriculture Minister, Roland Bhola disclosed this Tuesday at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing held at the Ministerial Complex in the Botanical Gardens in St. George’s.
The minister told reporters that the administration is not happy with the performance of Innovative Farms, the current operators of the Grand Bras Estate.
He said the new owners have been given approximately six months to prove to government that they should continue to operate as the proprietor of the estate.
A lease to operate the Grand Bras estate was granted to Innovative Farms in 2014 but government is now saying the operators have failed to live up to the signed agreement.
Speculation is rife that the main player behind the farm is a Grenadian businessman living in the United States.
When the farm was handed over to the new operators, the names of several former officials of the Marxist-oriented Grenada Revolution were associated with the estate.
THE NEW TODAY was told that the main financier was forced to look to a new management team within months, as the Revolutionaries did not live up to expectations.
According to Minister Bhola, enough time has been given to the new operators to fulfill government’s expectations in the lease agreement.
He said the estate has become noted for late salary payments to workers, a decrease in production levels in the past year of operations.
“What we found was that when they started with 17 employees on the estate, they have now decreased to 13 while the arrangement said that you must maintain the numbers that we started with because those were persons who were working originally on the estate”, Bhola told reporters.
“…In terms of having increase in production, that has not happened over the last 16 to 17 months and mind you, we have been aware (of this) because we have been engaging them,” he said.
The Agriculture Minister pointed out that in light of this turn of events, a decision was taken by government to give an ultimatum to the new proprietors who had given a commitment to find innovative ways to comply with the signed agreement.
“They have been given a timeline and an expectation that between now and August that they are going to implement some new plans and some new structures which they explained to the (government) personnel in the meeting.
“And so we are now working with them with that structure where they indicated that within that time span we should see increases in production and that they would maintain if not increase on the 13 employees that they have. They are looking at maintaining that now and the possibility of increase (in the number of farm labourers).
“…We will be doing constant monitoring as we have been doing and they have given an undertaking to give monthly written reports as to how they are progressing.”
Bhola said the NNP regime wants to give the operators of the estate an opportunity to succeed but if no change is seen by August, government will have to take a different approach.
He did not give a hint as to whether the Mitchell administration will run the estate for itself or look to another new group of private sector investors.
Government has been under pressure from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to get rid of loss-making state-run bodies as part of the Structural Adjustment Programme.