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Sugar industry COI commences

GeneralSugar industry COI commences

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Fri. June 7, 2024

The sugar industry’s Commission of Inquiry (COI), which was expected to begin its work 30 days after the signing of a commercial agreement between BSI (Belize Sugar Industries) and the BSCFA (Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association) back in January, finally held its first meeting virtually on May 29, after the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, signed a statutory instrument to that effect on March 19.

The meeting was led by chairman Wayne Piper along with five commissioners: Robert Mariette and Vinod Ramharai from Mauritius, Jeffery Joseph from Belize, Andy Church from South Africa, and Simon Gibbons from the UK. These commissioners have been hired on 90-day and 45-day contracts.

The initial phase of the commission’s work involves visits to key locations within the sugar industry. This includes the mills at Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) and Santander, as well as various sugar production sites in the north and west of Belize. These visits are crucial for understanding the logistical and operational hurdles faced by the industry.

“The intent of the Commission of Inquiry is to do exactly that—to delve into the numbers, the operations, the systems, the efficiencies, and compare to some regional and international standards, to even compare between Santander and BSI, these two mills in the country,” shared the Lead Coordinator for the Commission of Inquiry, Hugh O’Brien.

While the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) had welcomed the COI’s focus on the long-term viability of the industry, it had voiced concerns about the commission’s potential involvement in negotiating new commercial agreements. BSI stated that it would not cooperate with efforts that might compel it to share proprietary and confidential information due to the competitive nature of the sugar commodity business.

“BSI has shared its concern that, because it operates in a commodity business that is very competitive, it cannot share proprietary and confidential information. BSI has also communicated to the government that it will not cooperate with a COI whose platform and focus is to use process as an avenue to negotiate a new commercial agreement which is a private commercial matter,” they stated in a press release dated June 4.

Similarly, in a press release, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) expressed their hope that the COI would have been held in public, and urged the commission to reconsider its decision. The BSCFA says that the commissioners should not be intimidated by BSI/ASR, and should enforce the law rigorously without fear or favor.

Additionally, BSCFA disagreed with BSI’s stance that the COI report should not be used in negotiating a fair commercial agreement between BSI and BSCFA.

The COI is expected to complete its work by the end of November this year.

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