First … rice and sugar … then what?

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There were, at least, two bits of news that broke during the past week that really disappointed us.  In several ways, they actually saddened us.  We cannot deal with both in the space allotted so we will deal with the first which was the fact that Cabinet is considering establishing a monopoly on rice and sugar with a private company through the Central Marketing Corporation (CMC).  Note that we used the present tense “is” because when the news broke, the response from officialdom was not that there was a misunderstanding or that there was second thought; no, we were told the decision was “on hold”. 
“On hold?”  That sounds like code for “we will just let this one die down and pass it later when no one is looking”.
There is so much we do not like about this (or any) monopoly.  It is a long list but we will try to summarise in a few brief questions and comments.  The first is obvious.  Why a monopoly?  How are the people served by establishing a private monopoly on rice and sugar?  Even if, for some bizarre reason you want CMC to become the exclusive distributor for those products then why insert a private company in the middle?  That leads us to the next question.  Who are the principals behind BOAD Aggregates Limited?  We attempted to find out but our trip to the Intellectual Property Office produced nothing – the documents were not available for our review.  Odd, but it has happened before when we attempted to investigate other companies that may have had political ties.
The company’s attorney is Damien Benjamin, the son of Attorney General, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin.  We are making no link other than the obvious father-son relationship.  The AG has sought to distance himself from the entire issue, saying that he was neither part of the Cabinet discussion nor the negotiations between BOAD and CMC.  The younger Benjamin has refused to comment, citing confidentiality between client and attorney.  So the entire nation is on the brink of being plunged into archaic monopolies and no one has anything to say to the people other than the decision is “on hold”.  We are overwhelmed by the level of transparency.
And speaking of transparency, we must point out that this information and the related documents were not generously handed to us by the administration; they were leaked.  Considering all the grand promises of transparency and accountability, the Cabinet has a lot to answer for.
Let’s start with: Why was this issue never mentioned in any of the post-cabinet briefings?  The secrecy naturally raises suspicions.  Why was there a need to keep it quiet?  Then there is the matter of the cabinet decisions that are referred to in the draft agreement between BOAD and CMC. The first reference is to one dated October 8, 2014 and which apparently grants CMC the authority to become “the sole importer and distributor” of rice and sugar.  Is this even legal?  Can someone in the legal community please comment?
Then, there is reference to a second Cabinet decision, dated May 11, 2016.  That one apparently gave CMC the authority to enter into an “exclusive agreement with BOAD and or its subsidiaries for the production and supply of basmati rice and sugar and any other product that they can produce to be packaged for CMC”.
The third reference is to a Cabinet decision dated July 7, 2016.  That decision apparently “authorized the CMC to enter into negotiations with BOAD and or its subsidiaries to supply exclusively to CMC, or their authorised agents, rice, sugar in the raw or unrefined state, and other products and produce as may be identified from time to time, to be packaged for and on behalf of the CMC”.
To be fair, we have seen some correspondence where there are objections from CMC, including the exclusivity of BOAD as it relates to it becoming the sole importer of rice and sugar. The corporation cites the fact that there is no history of performance by the company.  CMC also sought to maintain the right to purchase from others and objected to the company “taking over its distribution network”.  That said, we do not have any complete picture of what the final agreement looks like.  And while we have been told that everything is “on hold” we really do not know what that means.  It could be that the agreement is signed, sealed and delivered but “on hold” until the spotlight shines in a different direction.  We just do not know because that information is not forthcoming. 
We are also fairly uneasy with the though that one of CMC’s primary concerns was for the negative political implications for the administration in granting a monopoly.  That indicates to us that everyone knows this is not a good deal and it is not in the best interest of the people. 
You can now see why we are sad and disappointed.  We are time-travelling back to the days of unnecessary monopolies where the monopolists get rich off the backs of the people for doing nothing more than signing a document that guarantees them a piece of the pie. If we go down this road, what will be the other monopolies foisted upon the people?
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.
 

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