Georgetown, GINA, June 11, 2015
The PetroCaribe Fund, which was set up as part of Guyana’s arrangement with Venezuela, to pay local famers supplying rice to the neighbouring country under a concessionary fuel supply agreement, is empty. This was revealed to the media today, at the first post-Cabinet media briefing by Minister of State Joseph Harmon at the Ministry of the Presidency.
He said that checks revealed that the fund is basically empty and currently there is no cash to pay rice farmers. “The fact of the matter is, that based on the casual and in some cases, very callous manner in which the previous Administration dealt with the proceeds from that arrangement, that the fund is almost bankrupt. There is nothing of it.”
Minister Harmon reminded that his Cabinet colleague Finance Minister Winston Jordan discovered and had reported that monies from the fund were used in part to fund the Hope Canal project and other things. He said that to cover the payment of rice from farmers, “we are actually going to have to find somewhere in the vicinity of $15M United States dollars to basically pay our farmers when they ship the next set of rice to Venezuela.” The money has to be found since it is no fault of the local farmers, but that of the previous Administration, he further added.
The issue is further complicated by the rice sector which is projected to break its own rice production levels by October of this year, Harmon said. In preparation for this reality, he stated that “Cabinet approved of the setting up of a sub -committee to examine and aggressively look at markets for our rice.”
Government is adopting an aggressive approach to finding foreign markets, the Minster added, and this effort will be spearheaded by the Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Ministries, and other stakeholders. The governance mechanism in the rice industry will also be examined, as mandated by Cabinet, to ensure transparency in the appointments to boards and other entities.
Asked about the evolving border and maritime dispute, Harmon said that while government might have some concerns, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge has been in consultation with his Venezuelan counterpart, Ms Delcy Rodriguez and the ambassador to this country. “They made it clear to us the issue as they relate to the decree, recently signed into law by President Maduro, will not affect the bilateral relations”.
The PetroCaribe fund contained most of the proceeds that came out of the Venezuelan ‘oil for rice’ deal. This has been estimated thus far to have amounted to hundreds of millions of US dollars. Minister Harmon said since Guyana paid only 10 to 15 percent of the money, with a long-term agreement for gradual repayment. This payback period has been endangered with a much shorter payback period now being considered, due to the actions of the previous government.