Agri Modernisation Programme budget cut draws Hanna’s rage
The slashing of the Government’s Agricultural Modernisation Programme by $150 million has angered St Ann South East Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna, who lambasted the administration Wednesday for treating small farmers with scant regard.
The Ministry of Agriculture programme aims to increase productivity and income for small farmers, among other things.
Financial Secretary (FS) Darlene Morrison, who appeared before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) to brief parliamentarians on the revised Budget, revealed that the Modernisation of Agricultural Sector Programme was a non-starter and was being “reformulated by the Ministry of Agriculture”.
The adjustment is reflected in the Third Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure.
However, this explanation brought no comfort to Hanna, who claimed that “various ministers of agriculture came to the House to speak glowingly about the modernisation project and how it was going to help farmers.
“I am angry now because my farmers need help – farmers across the board need help. Agriculture is one of the few industries that we have a global competitive advantage in, and why is it that we take such scant regard towards our farmers in this country?” Hanna declared.
She sought answers about the programme in the upcoming 2023-24 financial year.
Morrison said she was unable to provide that information, but assured Hanna that her concerns were noted and would “be conveyed to the Ministry of Agriculture”.
Responding, Hanna said, “FS, noting my concerns and passing it on to the ministry is not going to move the needle. Noting it and passing it on, perhaps even on a post, it is not going to yield the desired results.”
But Morrison maintained that the Ministry of Finance would look at the submissions from the Ministry of Agriculture for the next Budget and review and discuss them with the portfolio minister.
Hanna, however, insisted that countries that are performing well in agriculture do not slash their budgets, especially on the capital expenditure side.
During Thursday’s meeting of Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee, Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke said that the Ministry of Agriculture had made the decision to use the $150 million to deal with infrastructure development.
The committee was reviewing the Third Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure, which was approved by the House.
The Agricultural Modernisation Programme had set several targets for fiscal year 2022-2023, including the supply and installation of hardware, software, laboratory, and other equipment to support the information and surveillance systems at the Veterinary Services Division and Plant Protection Unit.
Other targets are the development of the framework for agricultural public-private partnerships, the design of a plant health information system, and establishment of the Project Management Unit.
Funding was being provided by the Government and the Inter-American Development Bank). The project duration is April 2022 to March 2027.
On another matter raised by St Catherine South Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson, the financial secretary confirmed that there was no allocation in the Third Supplementary Estimates for the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).
Parliament had passed legislation for the postponement of the local government elections, which are due by February 27, 2023.
General secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party, Dr Horace Chang, had already signalled that the local government polls would not be held by the February 27 deadline.
The Holness administration will have to take another bill to Parliament to postpone the local government elections for the third time since they were last held in 2016.
The last postponement of the local government elections was blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.