Editorial: Discrepancies and confusion

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A brouhaha erupted in the farming community after a draft document detailing an agreement between a Chinese company and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda was leaked. The company, China-based Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Company (LPHT), was said to have been allocated 4,000 acres of land to introduce various forms of high-tech farming to our bit of paradise. According to those reporting on the draft document, the allocation called for 2,000 acres in Antigua and the same in Barbuda.
The farming community saw the ‘generosity’ of the deal as being unnecessary and a possible threat to their existence. The farmers claimed that they were not consulted and saw the deal, which was presented after the fact, and only after the draft was leaked, as a slap in the face. In his retort on the matter, the Minister of Agriculture, made it known that the document being discussed was just a draft and the final was different. He challenged the land allocation accusations, saying, “I am sure that nowhere in that document is it ever suggested that the Chinese was going to get 4,000 acres of land.” He went on to indicate that he was the one who “mandated that no less than 4,000 be put under management” of the Chinese.
In order to settle the matter, after a testy meeting with the farming community, the minister committed to providing a copy of the official document to the National Coalition of Farmers (NCF) before the end of last month (May). That promise, however, never materialised. Now, missing a deadline is not a good thing but with a decent excuse, it can be tolerated and forgiven. What is concerning, in this case, are the pronouncement of Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the reporting by Linley Winter of the NCF that
changes are being made to the document prior to presentation. How do you make changes now and why not present the document and make the pending changes known?
The Prime Minister has already conceded that the farmer’s concerns are legitimate because what is being reported is not what he recalled being negotiated and signed. According to the PM, he has clear recall of the contract that he signed with the Chinese in the last quarter of 2017 and the agreement that he signed “did not indicate anything about farming 4,000 acres of land.” So if the PM’s recollection is correct, and there was a signed agreement that did not include 4,000 acres of land, how did Minister Jonas mandate that no less than 4,000 be put under management as part of the agreement?
To add to the confusion, the Prime Minister made some seemingly contradictory statements, but without knowing all the details, it is hard to say for sure. He said that the government’s agriculture policy is premised upon the fact that agricultural production in the country should be private sector driven and not by the public sector, but at the same time there is some kind of deal signed with LPHT to manage some type of farm. He further stated that any notion that the Agriculture Development Corporation (ADC) would be developing its own farm of 2,000 acres is not in keeping with the policies of the government, but the ADC has been named as the partner or managing entity for the project.
It is hard to get a clear picture, but PM Browne seems to be of the opinion that the agreement will see eight Chinese agricultural experts working in Antigua for three years providing technical support to local farmers on vegetable and tree cultivation, as well as agri-processing along with the establishment of seven greenhouses. One thing that he made clear was that “This idea that 2,000 acres could have been farmed by an entity within the Ministry of Agriculture, whoever came up that idea, clearly it was not in keeping with our policy. My understanding is that the contract has since been adjusted.” You see why there is a need for transparency and consultation? The PM says that no agreement was signed containing the vexing allocations of land and that none of what is being complained about is part of Government policy, but he concedes that the agreement was adjusted. What was there to adjust, and how did those previous modifications get into the document?
Out of all of this, there appears to be a disconnect with the Minister of Agriculture, Dean Jonas, as it relates to Government policy on certain agricultural issues. Again, we say “appears” because we are largely in the dark without seeing all the documents: the draft, the original signed document, the modified document and the most recently adjusted document. Maybe if all were presented, we could get a better picture of what transpired and what is planned. Then again, that is a big maybe. 

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