Chief Agricultural Officer defends Ministry

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is not a police station nor is it a court of law, and a senior official in that Ministry believes it is unfair for it to be asked to perform the duties of either in the fight against praedial larceny.

Speaking yesterday during the National Consultation on Praedial Larceny hosted by his Ministry at the Savannah Hotel, Chief Agricultural Officer (CAO) Lennox Chandler maintained that while the Ministry has an important role to play in combatting praedial larceny, the lead in that effort must be the criminal justice system.

His remarks came as he maintained that the egregious act of thieving crops and livestock is one that has to be wrestled to the ground once and for all.

Chandler made the point while noting that there are three sets of people engaging in this illegal activity – those who steal because they are hungry; those who steal to support a habit such as drug use; and the biggest challenge of them all, the “organised praedial larceny mafia”, where the ringleader sends out persons to steal hundreds of pounds of crops, which is then sold.

“That is where the real challenge is and that is the one we are really going to have to seek to behead quickly, if farmers are going to continue to produce and produce successfully in Barbados,” he contended.

The CAO, noting that praedial larceny is not a new phenomenon but an “old age act of villainy”, expressed concern about the length of time it has taken to get legislation to properly address the issue, which as far back as the 1930s was plaguing local farmers, forcing them at times to keep their animals in the house at night to safeguard them. With that in mind, he said of greatest concern is the length of time praedial larceny has been allowed to go on unabated, without the “type of attention and brevity” that has been brought to bear on other criminal acts. In that vein, he dismissed the notion often held that praedial larceny is the purview and domain only of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Although some of us at the Ministry may have been police officers in the past, the fact of the matter is the Ministry of Agriculture is not a police station, neither is it a court… And whilst I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture is a stakeholder in this matter, when I hear of larceny, something tells me that it’s the primary purview of the police and of the courts in terms of enforcement,” he said.

Chandler admitted that while the Ministry no doubt has a role to play in the administration of the legislation, he maintained that “administration and enforcement are not one and the same”. He bolstered his point, arguing that if a tourist is mugged or a theft occurs at a popular store, persons do not call the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Commerce, they call the police.

“But if a sack or rod of sweet potatoes is stolen, you hear ‘What is the Ministry of Agriculture doing?’ And frankly, I think this is unfair to us in the Ministry,” he stated.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the Ministry has a role to play as facilitators and in the administration of praedial larceny legislation.

Chandler said as partners in the effort to mitigate against praedial larceny, the Ministry has offered rebates and other incentives for security systems on farms, ensured that up-to-date records are kept and he said its goal is to continue to work with the stakeholders.

“[But] I urge you, do not expect us to function as policemen or magistrates. I wish to make it clear, however, that all of us are stakeholders. You the farmers, consumers, consumer groups, merchants and middlemen, we all have to band together if we are to succeed in reducing the scourge of praedial larceny,” he indicated. (JRT)

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