In last year’s Budget, just one-third of the development funds allotted to the Ministry of Agriculture was spent, leaving two-thirds unspent despite vital projects in need, bemoaned Mayaro MP Rushton Paray, in the Lower House Budget debate on Tuesday. “When you spend 32 percent of your allocation, in a critical ministry like agriculture, something is wrong.”
Paray also complained, “No allocation was made on the development of the fish processing industry. This is poor planning for a value-added feature in our diversification drive.”
He listed areas of shortfall of spending.
“The ministry failed to set up community-based aquaculture programmes (fish farming). They spent $88,000 out of a $500,000 allocation. Something is wrong.”
Saying the buffalypso has high potential for export and substitution, he hit, “The ministry spent only $150,000 out of one million dollar allocation.”
“What is going wrong? You have allocations, you have a strategy, you are in a critical ministry, spend the allocation, because we have to move this sector forward.” He said just $300,000 was spent out of a $7 million allocation for agricultural access to targetted commodity and strategy crops.
He said nothing was spent on agricultural drainage in the last year.
In a message to Agriculture Minister Clarance Rambharat, Paray said, “The farmers want him to know they’ve been waiting three years to collect their subsidies.” He said some rice farmers in Plum Mitan and Navet have not been paid for the past year. “These are low margin operations. The minute you don’t pay these guys you put them at risk.”
He hit the Budget as “rudderless, myopic, incoherent”, with betrayal and promises that will never materialise.
Lamenting the Budget’s disclosure of a ministerial committee to allocate agricultural grants, he said, “Political victimisation is real. Today on social media I read a story of a witness who had appeared before a particular JSC and lost her job last night. It has me worried that this may have political dots to connect.”
Paray urged that in the next 10 to 15 years, food security must be a priority for TT. “Who is going to step in to be this agricultural messiah to save this country?” He said rather than the upper class and the struggling middle-class which is now being ripped apart by taxes to fund the social safety net, the task will fall to the farmers. Paray urged help for farmers, by way of land tenure reform, fresh infrastructure, guaranteed prices for food-staples such as tomatoes and rice, and a new national culture of respect for farmers.
Paray urged the country to ensure its future food security by purchasing wheat farms in the United States and Europe. Saying the Netherlands which has 150,000 greenhouses that produce 141,00 kilogrammes of crops per square mile, he said TT must likewise use technology to boost its agricultural output. He also suggested the recruitment of killed immigrants who are fleeing their countries can be used as a tool of diversification of the TT economy.
Paray said citizens are prepared to shoulder the burden of adjustment, but not under poor leadership, mediocrity and half-baked plans.