KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – As calls intensify for Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel to resign over his department’s mishandling of the black sigatoka crisis, he yesterday apologised to farmers even as he asked if there was an “organised plot” to undermine the ministry’s effort.
Daniel revealed to Parliament new details about why his Ministry didn’t order until July the oil needed to spray diseased banana plants although funds were allocated since March.
He had on Sunday said that his staff had waited months to send to the Ministry of Finance the documents necessary to access the funds.
However, even after the documents were sent in July, months after the fund were released, agriculture officials did not send to the Ministry of Finance the document for the purchase of the oil, resulting in further delays.
“Now, having waited all of that time [with] the document in the Ministry of Agriculture and then [having] to wait … [for the] order [to arrive], of course, it is going to prolong [the] spraying against leaf spot disease,” Daniel said.
“And so I myself, on behalf of the Ministry, I apologise to the farmers for what happened in the Ministry,’ said Daniel, who on Sunday said he accepts “responsibility” but not “blame” for the situation.
“Mr. Speaker, if you think that was bad, that was not all,” said Daniel, who has found himself in the lion’s den of farmers’ outrage.
Daniel said that he instructed his permanent secretary to ensure that the aircraft was in order to commence spraying as soon as the oil arrived here.
“Having instructed the PS to that extent, one week later, the PS came back to me and said, ‘Minister, I have to report to you that the aircraft is not airworthy.’”
The permanent secretary informed Daniel that when the aircraft was last inspected in November, it was not certified to carry out spraying operations.
Even then the EC$12,000 bill sent to the Ministry by the service providers for certification of the aircraft was not paid.
“He said that when he realised that … the aircraft could not fly and that the bill had come to the Ministry of Agriculture since November in 2010, … he himself went searching again for that bill, only to find that bill in one of the table drawers of the same senior assistant office,” Daniel said of the conversation he had with his permanent secretary.
“Mr Speaker, the question is, and I have to ask myself: Is there an organised plot by an individual or any organisation, or any political party to frustrate the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture? Is it that there is an organised strategy by any individual, by any organisation, to frustrate the farmers of this country?” Daniel said.
He further told Parliament that the general election last December, which his Unity Labour Party (ULP) won by a single seat, has shown that the ULP “is strongest in the farming communities ….
“Is it that what was done is to frustrate the farmers to indicate that this government does not care about farmers. Well, of course, Mr. Speaker, this government, since we came to office, has done tremendous things to the farming communities,” Daniel said.
He reported to Parliament that aerial spraying of bananas trees recommenced on Wednesday, with 262 acres sprayed that day.
“Mr. Speaker, this government has committed itself to leaf spot spraying of bananas in this country. Why? The cost of leaf spot if very expensive and no other organisation will take on such a challenge,” the Agriculture Minister said.