Opposition agriculture spokesman Lothan Cousins blamed the illegal import of chicken parts into the country and called on the government to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of the matter.
Cousins made the claim Tuesday when contributing to the sectoral debate in the House of Representatives.
The MP for Clarendon South Western pointed to an Integrity Commission report into the Chicken Backs and Necks Import Scheme, which was tabled in the House in December 2020. He cited fraud due to a lack of transparency and accountability, and a compromised award process that effectively hindered competition.
“The report also refers to illegal packaging of dutiable premium parts in containers declared as chicken backs or necks, which are not dutiable.
“These findings were listed as some of the troubling factors that required immediate correction,” Cousins said.
The report also contained recommendations for the immediate cessation of the licensing of chicken backs and necks, in accordance with the provisions in force.
“It is important to note that the report strongly called for a new import arrangement policy to ensure transparency and accountability, particularly in the receipt and processing of applications,” Cousins recalled.
The opposition spokesman also pointed out that several government ministers, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, have acknowledged the system is broken and needs fixing. But, Cousins said, promises to do so have not materialized.
“We were promised transparency and accountability, but companies that have no investment in a productive business or capital expenditure in the meat distribution business are benefiting from obtaining import permits for chicken back .
“It’s a very dangerous practice,” Cousins said.
He said the practice of granting import permits for chicken to people with little or no institutional involvement in the meat trade is dangerous.
“With minimal credibility to lose, as institutional traders, these people are taking risks by bringing into the country premium cuts of poultry and other dutiable meats, taking advantage of the status in duty-free granted to chicken. Moreover, these same people are also converting import permits into monetary benefits by selling to legitimate traders, thus adding an extra margin to the poor,” Cousins said.
“Only that [Tuesday] morning, I received a call from a trader indicating that he was approached with illegal imports of thigh quarters,” Cousins revealed.
He asked Agriculture Minister Pearnel Charles Jr if he was aware of what was going on.
“If you are unaware, Minister, I urge you to launch an investigation as soon as possible to address this issue,” Cousins said.
He also urged Dr Clarke to “take note of this practice to salvage what remains of this government’s credibility”.
The cousins said the problems had persisted although Clarke said the chicken back import allocation policy had been overhauled and the new measures would be implemented on April 1, 2021.