KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has dismissed as “flimsy excuses” the government’s explanation for the late ordering of oil to spray diseased banana trees here.
Banana fields are expected to be sprayed from tomorrow, months after black sigatoka began to spread unencumbered across the country.
The delay in aerial spraying has been attributed to a mix-up at the Ministry of Agriculture and recent storms across the Caribbean and the United States.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has said that agriculture officials “dropped the ball” on the disease, which has further curtailed banana cultivation even as the sector struggles to recover from last November’s Hurricane Tomas.
But Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel said he takes “responsibility” but not “blame” for the situation.
Daniel explained that his staff did not send the requisite documents to the Ministry of Finance until July, although monies were released since April.
“As Ministry of Agriculture … I have to accept the responsibility but I am not going to accept the blame. … The Ministry has its officials. They have their work to do. They must do their work,” Daniel said on Sunday.
“I reject all of that for one simple reason,” Eustace said yesterday, noting that this year’s National Budget approved the Ministry’s programme for controlling the disease.
According to the Budget, agriculture officials are to control the disease through ground crew
operations, at least six aerial spray cycles this year, and implement an effective management programme for the control of black sigatoka and moko, another disease affecting the country’s banana cultivation.
“I mean the Ministry of Agriculture wrote this last year to be effected this year and [it] was passed in the budget in January. So, the Minister only [knew] the other day that they weren’t implementing it?” Eustace said.
“All that is foolishness. They did not manage the programme properly. They didn’t do it as they said in the Estimates and the Ministry of Agriculture must take the full blame for that, including the Minister and by extension the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace further said.
He noted the importance of agriculture to the country and emphasised that the government should not blame civil servants for the situation.
“… if I am Minister of Agriculture … I would want to know why the fields are not being sprayed. And I’ll make sure that they are being sprayed because I know how important the industry is to the country,” said Eustace, a banana farmer.
“The government dropped the ball. They drop the ball,” the former prime minister and minister of finance maintained.
Eustace, an economist, said that because of the situation, investments in the industry after Hurricane Tomas, which destroyed 98 per cent of banana plants, is wasted.
“The fertilizer government gave to farmers, the income support they gave to farmers, all of that is now come to naught. … and then our reputation as a banana producer, because you are not hearing that complaint in St. Lucia and Dominica. It is here alone,” he said.
In June, St. Vincent exported bananas to the United Kingdom for the first time since Hurricane Tomas, and up 96 per cent of the fruits was being rejected because of premature ripening, a consequence of black sigatoka.
“We are not even at the bottom of the table. We are under the table,” Eustace said.