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PM: Flour Mill offer not politically motivated

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The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines may need the cooperation of the Veira family if any plan to have the National Flour Mills (NFM) of Trinidad and Tobago take control of the Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC) is to materialize, and Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves knows that.{{more}}

At a press conference last Monday, March 3, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that he was looking into the possibility of having NFM purchase 11 per cent of the Government’s 20 per cent share in ECGC.

He was reporting on his two day meeting with Trinidadian Prime Minister Patrick Manning, during which discussions on the flour mills were held.

He further explained that it was desirable to have the Canadian company Maple Leaf Foods sell their 40 per cent to NFM, which would give NFM controlling interest in the company.

“Maybe Maple Leaf may want to sell. If Maple Leaf sells their 40 per cent, I am prepared to come to the Cabinet and say, let us sell 11 per cent of our 20 per cent to National Flour Mills to give them majority shareholdings,” Dr Gonsalves said.

“I am not interested in running a flour mill…my interest is in seeing that people get the flour as cheap as they want,” Dr Gonsalves said.

But a spokesperson for the Veira family, which, like Maple Leaf, owns 40 percent of ECGC, questioned the announcement by Dr Gonsalves.

“I think his talk is politically motivated, I am not sure how much he is really looking out for the company (ECGC),” the spokesperson said.

She explained that Maple Leaf Foods will first have to offer shares to her family before they approach any outside investor. “We don’t have to buy all 40 percent. We just have to take 11 percent,” she explained.

The spokeswoman claimed that government has stifled the price increases, which has crippled the company, in the wake of skyrocketing wheat prices.

She told SEARCHLIGHT that this, in her family’s opinion, is direct reprisal for their open support of the Opposition New Democratic Party.

“Rubbish, total rubbish,” is how Dr Gonsalves responded to the claim of political victimization.

He said that government instructed the Flour Mills that they needed to present a development plan which charts the way forward; this after many years of operating with government concessions.

“We told them that we were not giving another increase until they brought this plan,” Dr Gonsalves said.

He, however, reiterated what he said at the press conference earlier this week: that the tripling of wheat prices over the last year and a half makes a price increase inevitable at this time.

Dr Gonsalves further explained that in his discussions with Prime Minister Manning and earlier with the NFM, the procedure of acquiring shares was made crystal clear.He confirmed that shareholders in ECGC must first offer shares they wish to sell to fellow shareholders before looking outside.

He refuted claims by the Veira spokesperson that he was trying ignore them, saying that his discussions with the Trinidad and Tobago interests are known to the management of ECGC, and was deemed a desirable point of exploration.

He said that what he reported was only the skeleton of the discussions with Manning, but if such an arrangement is to be pursued, it is obvious that the Veiras and Maple Leaf Foods, along with the government, will have to be involved.

“The point is, right now the flour mill is losing a lot of money,” Dr Gonsalves said.

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