Opposition MP Davendranath Tancoo is calling for an urgent and independent public audit into the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation’s (Namdevco) distribution programme for covid19 relief hampers. Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said the expenses for the programme in the first month were 20 per cent below estimates.
Speaking at a weekly Opposition virtual media briefing on Sunday, Tancoo said Agricultural Society President Daryl Rampersad had made serious allegations against Namdevco, including that “certain persons were operating as middlemen, buying produce cheaply from farmers and selling the same produce to Namdevco at prices that were as much as 300 and 400 per cent higher. What makes the claim even more credible is that the claims were supported and reinforced on the spot openly by very farmers making the allegations.”
Tancoo said when questioned by the media about these serious allegations, the Minister of Agriculture “engaged in a long tirade against one farmer without providing a shred of evidence to deny that the allegations were true.
“If what is being reported is true, this is wanton corruption from start to finish, from procurement to distribution, with taxpayers being forced to fund this obscene racketeering at Namdevco and presided over by the Minister of Agriculture.”
In response, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, via a Facebok post, said he had written to the Agricultural Society President “requesting the details of that allegation for the purpose of investigation and action.
“The sole farmer making the allegation of “handful of farmers benefiting” happens to have sold over $65,000 in sweet potato in the first 18 days. After requesting from him on May 27 the specifics of his allegations, and repeating the request, I have received nothing from this person. Today I made the request again, indicating that I was prepared to assist him with having someone record the information. Meanwhile, there are now 14 farmers supplying sweet potato so of course the purchases are being spread evenly.”
Rambharat said the expenses for the programme were more than 20 per cent below estimates in the first month.
“You don’t manage expenses like that with the intent to thief.
"On the allegation of a handful of farmers benefitting, I don’t know of any hands that can hold the159 farmers who have benefitted from the $4.5 million paid out for produce in the first month of the programme. A few farmers are over $100,000 in sales; a few between $50,000 to $100,000, and the balance averaging around $25,000 in one month.”
He said over 50 casual employees are working in Chaguanas and Piarco towards the June target of another 25,000 families.
“I am happy that MP Tancoo acknowledged that he received for his constituency packages for 600 families in May. At the end of the day, that is really what matters and the fact that a wider pool of farmers are selling and the programme’s expenses are carefully managed.”