Government considers the way forward with Innovative Farms

A major rift is in the making between the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government and some of the former leftwing leaders in the country on the future of Grenada Innovative Farms (GIF).

The administration announced last week that it had terminated the agreement signed with Innovative whose Acting Manager is former Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart Layne of the disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).

Two other major revolutionary figures involved in the farm are ex-Lieutenant Colonel Liam “Owusu” James and former trade unionist, John “Chalkie” Ventour.

All three served lengthy prison sentences after being convicted for the 1983 bloody murder of Marxist Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop following a bitter clash between moderates and hardliners for control of the New Jewel Movement-led People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).

There appears to be mixed signals coming from the NNP administration on the status of the agreement signed with the former Revolutionaries for the state-owned Grand Bras Estate.

Former Minister of Agriculture, Roland Bhola told reporters at last week’s post-Cabinet press briefing that  government had taken a decision to terminate the agreement with GIF to operate the estate.

However, one week later the former Minister of State for Agriculture and now Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Senator Simon Stiell gave a different view and said that the agreement has not yet been terminated.

The operators of the GIF have put out a statement claiming that they have not received any notification from government that the agreement was cancelled.

The bulletin was put out after Minister Bhola told reporters last week that a decision was taken to have a panel of persons engage the owners in a meeting that will explain to them the reason for termination of the signed agreement.

“…Because they (GIF operators) are local people, we as government want to give as many opportunities as we can to our local people but we also have to be cognisant of the fact that this is a business and there were many people who were dependent on that business being successful so that they can get employment and the entire community of Grand Bras and so has been let down because the company did not perform as they should,” the Minister said.

However, Sen. Stiell told reporters on Tuesday that on the contrary discussion must first be held with Innovative before any termination of the agreement.

“What needs to take place is a dialogue which has to take place between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Directors of Innovative Farms and then the discussion as to how to move forward then needs to take place”, he said.

“What is very clear is the performance of the estate falls far below what is expected and what is their contractual obligation and confidence. There is a lack of confidence that they have the ability to achieve what needs to be achieved,” he added. According to Sen. Stiell, government needs to sit down with GIF and take a look at what was specified in the contract, as well as the expected obligations and what the parties mutually agreed upon.

This, he said will determine how best to move forward with the estate.
Attorney General, Cajeton Hood who also addressed the press conference indicated that government was doing its utmost to ensure that there is no conflict with GIF on the Grand Bras issue.

“The agreement contains various elements…2there is some dissatisfaction with the performance under the agreement and we have set up a procedure.

“I have received a letter, a communication from the group. We are carefully wording a response because we want to give the clear message that they will be engaged and the intention of the government is to have a resolution that is as amicable as possible.

“…I want to stress that the intention of the government is to have a resolution of the issues because there are issues but the intention is to have the issues resolved as amicably as possible.  In the event that both sides have to walk away from the agreement the intention is to have it as peacefully as possible.

AG Hood is known to be a close friend of former Lieutenant-Colonel Layne.

The revolutionary figure who studied law and was denied entry to serve as a lawyer in the country on account of his murder conviction was often seen at Hood’s private law firm.

Another top member of the ill-fated 1979-83 Grenada Revolution, former foreign minister Peter David now serves as a Government Senator in the Upper House of Parliament.

Attorney General Hood revealed that GIF did not receive a lease from government for Grand Bras but was operating the farm on the basis of the agreement signed.

The agreement to operate the Grand Bras estate was signed off in 2014.

Government is complaining that up to the beginning of 2016, the estate was affected by a high level of low productivity and late salary payments to workers.

Talks were held between both parties in March with James and Ventour asking for an extended six-month period to try and turn-around the farm.

The two were given until August to improve the operations on the farm.

Both Minister Bhola and Sen. Stiell told reporters in separate press conferences in the past  two weeks that there has been no improvement on the estate a claim denied by GIF.

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