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REVISED PRODUCE, COMMODITY BILL CAUSING STIR

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Two opponents of the Produce and Commodity Act 2006 remained unconvinced today despite efforts by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to their allay fears, while a third organisation has now voiced concern and is requesting a meeting with government.

The act which the Opposition alleged was “rushed through” Parliament last week has raised eyebrows in several quarters because what was considered to be a dormant law was suddenly replaced by another and pushed through the House of Assembly in one sitting.{{more}}

One of the measures of the new law was the power given to the government to take over the marketing and processing of any produce it so desires.

It has also been given the authority to determine the price at which it would purchase produce; it does not have to be at market price.

Some regarded it as socialist legislation. Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel who remained tight-lipped amidst swirling winds of controversy piloted the bill through Parliament but it was Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves who faced the critics.

In a news conference lasting a shade over two hours the prime minister addressed the concerns of the new law among other things. He said this law repealed the Marketing Corporation Act which governed the Marketing Corporation. That entity is now placed under the management of the National Properties Limited however he said that many “support systems were not transported” and this was the reason for the new law.

The Private Sector Organisation (PSO) of St Vincent and the Grenadines which initially considered the law to be unconstitutional, undemocratic, and oppressive remained concerned even after the prime minister’s assurances.

Executive Director of the PSO, Rudy Daniel, said that the wide scope of power given to government in the act remains a cause of serious trepidation.

“The Prime Minister may insist that his Government will not abuse the provision of this law but suppose a new Government comes into power and wields this power negatively?” Daniel asked in an interview with the Searchlight.

The Opposition National Democratic Party (NDP) also maintained its stance on the act saying that it was seeking to “control people and pass out favours”. However, the prime minister launched a counter-offensive saying if they were so much against it why did they not repeal it when they had the opportunity? The Marketing Corporation Act was revised five times since 1975 including once by the NDP.

“It is a valid question,” Senator St Claire Leacock of the NDP told the Searchlight admitting that the NDP could have moved faster to remove the legislation, however he reiterated his party’s position that the act was outdated and had no place in this modern society of trade liberalization.

A third group which has spoken out for the first time is the Chamber of Commerce which was scheduled to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday requesting an urgent meeting.

President Martin Bollers said that at an emergency meeting on Tuesday there was a diversity of opinion as the members were divided in their views. The only consensus was to engage government in discussion.

The prime minister also categorically denied and dismissed as “nonsense” suggestions that government will use this law to control the trading of various commodities in an effort to aid its fund raising drive for the Argyle International Airport project. The Government is already proposing the sale or lease of hundreds of acres of land in Bequia to fund government’s contribution to the multi-million dollar airport.

The Eastern Caribbean Trading Agriculture and Development Organization (ECTAD) had also expressed its concern saying the law opened the door for partisan political favoritism in export and import of goods as the agriculture minister was empowered with “dictatorial authority”.

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