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Home Features Anthony J. Chanona, J.P., offers his “two cents” on the citrus industry

Anthony J. Chanona, J.P., offers his “two cents” on the citrus industry

Dear Editor,

Please allow me to express “my 2 cents” opinion on your Editorial of Friday, November 1, 2019, titled, “GoB must assist the CGA and all small farmers.”

Indeed, GoB should not allow the CGA to collapse into financial ruin. This institution was crafted into law in 1967 by luminaries such as Alexander S. Frankson and birthed in Parliament by the then Minister of Agriculture, Sir Alexander Hunter.

Although we have, at times, irresponsibly tinkered with changes to this legislation over the decades, it has provided the CGA with the legal footing to serve the citrus industry, and if it is given a chance to regain its financial health, the CGA can continue to do so long into the future. But the current issues affecting the CGA are not of the government’s doing, per se.

And GoB should not be regarded as a financial piñata of sorts, ready to disembowel Social Security funds or other publicly borrowed funds if hit hard enough with an emotional reason without first understanding exactly why we are where we are.

The current managerial structure at the CGA has not accounted to its general membership, as prescribed in detail by the 1967 Act, since 2014. Because of this, the Committee of Management (COM) may have spent money it does not have and may have borrowed money it cannot repay.

We did not arrive here overnight, and the influx of money, as a standalone tool, will not fix what is broken at the CGA. I hold the view that it would be ill-advised for the GoB to invest Social Security funds or any other source of borrowed funds into a structure that does not appear to be accountable to its general membership.

When this said group of growers in the COM was called to order of accountability via a grower-petitioned Special Annual General Meeting (SAGM) back in 2013, it was because it had not held an Annual General Meeting (AGM) since 2009.

But instead of entertaining this opportunity for financial scrutiny and accountability at the grower-petitioned SAGM, the COM instead hosted the mass, armed presence of police and GSU law enforcement officers that ended in a confrontation and aborted quorum.

Under intense pressure, the COM finally conceded to hosting an AGM in 2014 at Red Bank Village, a location miles away from the traditional location of the CGA headquarters at Mile 9 on the Stann Creek Valley Road. Since that date, no other AGM has been held. The CGA, then, has been unaccountable to its membership these past five years, given 2019. Why this entrenched secrecy? Who is instructing this unprecedented behavior at the CGA?

I submit that there is an endgame to the rhyme and reason for this madness. And in my opinion, it has all to do with CGA’s ownership of its BCGAICL Shares in CPBL. The 1967 Act creates a CGA that is faceless. Simply put, who forms the Committee of Management owns the CGA, which owns these CPBL shares.

As this endgame plays out, you will see the large citrus growers trying to trample the right and privilege of the small citrus growers to equal ownership of these shares. But that is another story.

I agree wholeheartedly with that part of your editorial which states that GoB needs to intervene into this undesirable financial instability that appears to visit the CGA. GoB should not abdicate its responsibility to act as it should, posthaste!

But let’s not drag the emotion of unsuspecting and abused “small citrus growers” into this mess, which is not of their doing. After ten years at it, this mess is totally at the hands of the COM, not HLB, not BCM and not any other excuse. Let’s own up to this reality check and let’s fix it. The citrus industry needs a vibrant and functioning CGA. It should not be allowed to destroy its good name, significance and importance to all of us who regard ourselves as stalwart members of the Citrus Growers Association.

The CGA’s “plan of action” these past ten years drifted away from the legislated moorings of the 1967 Act which primarily clothed CGA in law as a grower-owned, service-orientated business. The COM allowed itself to get distracted with its ownership of its CPBL shares, signed into excessive borrowing to operate a citrus nursery operation in Red Bank, and additional borrowing to plant pineapples on CGA lands at Mile 9.

At a glance, all may have been seen as good initiatives, but not ones designed to be owned and managed by a not-for-profit entity like the Citrus Growers Association. To keep these investments afloat, the COM “co-mingled” profits from the CGA revolving fund, diesel sales, agri-chemical sales and from any other profitable source found within its operations to support a top-heavy management structure and its languishing investments. The restructuring of Plant World Nursery (PWN) as a limited liability asset of the CGA came too late. It bankrupted these services .

GoB intervention should be swift and surgically precise. Dissolve the COM, restructure the CGA operational model by downsizing top heavy management of 2 persons, which currently accounts for 45% of the CGA wage bill, appoint in-house competence to hold over the operations of CGA in the interim, hive off CGA pineapple plantations to CBBL on a commission basis, restructure Citrus Research (CREI) and the Belize Budwood Certification Programme (BCCP) pragmatically but systematically to BAHA and CPBL, and hypothecate CGA’s land assets at Mile 9 to secure a $2.0 million line of credit from the National Bank of Belize to buy citrus inputs of fertilizers, chemicals and “one-off” duty-free diesel for resale to CGA membership.

In short, help the CGA reinvent itself, as a small grower organization. The 2019/2020 citrus crop has started, and small citrus growers are in dire need.

Without malice,

I respectfully submit my “two cents” …

Anthony J. Chanona, J.P.
Concerned Member of the CGA
Former Chairman of the CGA

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