Agriculture Minister Roland Bhola has unveiled plans by the ruling New National Party (NNP) government to establish a special court to deal with praedial larceny and alternative sentencing for those found guilty of the offense.
Addressing the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister Bhola said that the issue of imprisonment of those guilty offenders is a major concern for farmers in the country..
He told reporters that farmers are often frustrated at the length of time it takes in the regular courts to convict persons caught stealing their crops.
“You catch someone (and) the frustration of the farmer having to wait two years, three years sometimes before the court finally make judgment on the issue and when it does it’s six months, eight months in prison …”, he said.
According to Minister Bhola even if there is a jail sentence on conviction, the taxpayers of this country are being called upon “to feed you up in the jail”.
He complained that the offenders are now allowed to enjoy a life of comfort at the Richmond Hill prison.
“Rested, getting fat, eating well, having a secure night rest, coming out just in time. The poor farmer working again cleaning, planting and preparing to harvest that next crop and the cycle repeats itself”, he remarked.
Bhola, who is also engaged in some form of farming, said that the sentence of six months and other minimal charges imposed on guilty offenders is not working or helping to arrest the situation facing farmers.
“So we have asked the Cabinet and they agreed and the Ministry of Legal Affairs is looking at ways to deal with alternative sentencing”, he said.
According to Bhola, the NNP administration is looking forward to the day when a presiding judge can move away from a six month term in prison and instead order the convicted person to serve six months labour on the farm and doing community service.
The senior government minister believes that the establishment of a special court is needed to deal with only praedial larceny to ensure some form of speedy justice for farmers.
He also used the occasion to commend the work done by former Agriculture Minister Michael Lett (deceased) who served under the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government of ex-Prime Minister Tillman Thomas in attempting to curb praedial larceny.
“It (crop theft) is a national issue … and a national crisis,” said Bhola, the Member of Parliament for the rural St. Andrew North-east constituency.
He spoke of the Ministry of Agriculture taking the issue of praedial larceny seriously especially the impact on the farming population.
In this regards, he pointed to the launch of the Invigorating Praedial Larceny Programme through the use of technology.
Minister Bhola said that his ministry received Cabinet approval to secure computers to be placed at District offices and police stations to be used to create databases on farmers and to create a direct link between the police and farmers using the skills of Imani trainees in the interim.
He added that vehicles were also provided for use by the Praedial Larceny Task Force and that infrared cameras have been secured and the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) would place them on farms in order to make the job of finding the culprits much easier.
The Minister also referred to other things to be implemented to help curb praedial larceny such as the registration of venders, days of selling, and the produce sold.
He said that government is taking steps to ensure that purchase of produce from farmers are done through an exchange of receipts.