By Fareeza Haniff
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Minister of State, Joseph Harmon had painted a rather grim picture of Guyana’s PetroCaribe fund, revealing at a press conference on Thursday, June 11 that it is bankrupt and as a result government has to source approximately US$15M to pay rice farmers.
He blamed the bankruptcy on the previous administration [People’s Progressive Party Civic] for the “casual and callous manner” in which they handled the proceeds of the arrangement between Guyana and Venezuela.
The Minister revealed that monies from the fund were used to construct the Hope Canal and other infrastructures, when it was not supposed to. Harmon could not provide figures to show how much money was put into the fund or how much was spent; however he noted that the previous government spent more than what was placed into the PetroCaribe fund.
“The fact of the matter is based on the very casual and callous manner in which the previous administration dealt with the proceeds from that arrangement, that the fund was almost bankrupt, there is nothing in it…So as it stands right now, the situation with the export of paddy, export of rice to Venezuela is that we’re actually going to have to find somewhere in the vicinity of US$15M to basically pay our farmers when they ship the next set of rice to Venezuela.
“The money has to be found because we believe there is no fault on the part of our farmers but it has to do with the way the previous administration handled that fund,” the Minister of State told reporters.
Harmon reiterated that there was a “very serious” level of mismanagement on the part of the previous PPP/C government.
“We’re receiving demands for sums of monies that were not paid. We’re getting people who are turning up saying they were not paid. It’s a very serious situation which we face. Monies were spent, which were not meant to be spent from this fund.”
PetroCaribe is intended to promote trade amongst member countries, and Guyana has been supplying rice to Venezuela under the initiative. Under the current trade agreement, Guyana is expected to supply 210,000 tons of paddy and polished rice annually to Venezuela. The value of this supply amounts to US$130 million.
Meanwhile, he further noted that Cabinet, which met on Tuesday, June 09, approved the establishment of a sub – committee to “aggressively” source new markets for the export of rice, given the fact that by October and November “we will have such a great production of rice, markets available will not be able to sustain it.”
“Cabinet approved of an aggressive approach, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that new markets are found for the production of rice,” Minister Harmon said.
Cabinet was also advised that the governance system within the rice industry will be examined carefully to ensure that there was transparency in the appointment of Boards and other entities.