This was highlighted during the debate on the opposition’s motion to suspend the implementation of new proposed land rates and rentals by the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary -Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) in the National Assembly this evening.
Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder
After hours of intense debate, the government side of the National Assembly simply could not support the motion.
The motion stated that Guyana’s economy is in no significant way based on the contributions of the agricultural sector which sustains the entire Guyanese population and provides economic activities and jobs for thousands of households and communities.
The motion continues to state that the government recently unilaterally imposed increases in land rent and other charges to farmers in the MMA area, rice farmers and the industry in this area has been under severe duress and farmers will now be forced to pay $15,000 per acre per year as the new rental fee.
However, speakers from the government side said although the opposition displays the land rate increases as ‘draconian’, all revenue garnered will go towards improving and making more lands available to farmers.
The MMA/ADA is responsible for the operation and maintenance of 784 miles of drainage and irrigation canals, 381 structures, including kokers, sluices, bridges, aqueducts and regulators, and four pump stations.
Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder told the National Assembly that the MMA is currently carrying out new infrastructural works in the Phase 2 (Mahaicony-Abary) area which will facilitate the development of another 15,000 areas of land . The minister said that the collection of land rates is important to the overall development of agriculture in Region Five.
“According to the draft National Strategy for Agriculture in Guyana 2016-2020, (Development and Maintenance of Agricultural Infrastructure), pg.58, financing is required for the successful completion of Phases 2 and 3 of the MMA/ADA strategic plan. This can only become a reality with legitimate increased drainage and irrigation and land rent charges,” Minister Holder pointed out.
The opposition touted that increased land rentals would mean nothing more than added burden to the farmers and families in Region Five.
Mover of the Motion, Dharamkumar Seeraj, Opposition Member of Parliament
Mover of the motion, Dharamkumar Seeraj called on the government to revoke the increased land rentals which have been proposed since it does not make “economic sense”. Seeraj added that the government has failed to engage stakeholders effectively and proves that the administration is autocratic in nature.
Land Rental rates in the MMA/ADA area were as low as $1,000 per acres. Despite such a low cost for land and drainage and irrigation services provided by the State, farmers were still delinquent in paying lease rates as stipulated by the MMA/ADA Act.
The Agriculture Minister said that this has hampered the Authority from executing planned works outlined in its work programme with the most important being the completion of MMA Phases 2 and 3.
The 2017 National Budget has catered for a sum of $357M to offset some of the authority’s expenses. It has been noted that the existing D&I rates and land rent charges will not be able to cover the current operating cost.
According to a recent release from the Ministry of Agriculture, “In 1998, land rent charges for pasturage were fixed at $1,000 per acre annually. The Rice Farmers (Security of Tenure) Act Chap. 69:02 sets out the guidelines for basic rental and are expressed in bags (140 llb) per acre which is five percent of the quantity of paddy produced in one two -crop year.”
The calculations are outlined below:-
Rice yield (national average) = 35 bags per acre per crop
5 percent of yields (By 2 crops per year) = 3.5 bags
3.5 x $2000 per bag = $7000 per acre ($583 per month)
In addition, it has been established that the basic rent for land for pasture is 20 percent of the rent for rice lands. Therefore, the rent livestock farmers are being asked to pay will be $1400 per acre annually or $117 per month.
Other opposition members of parliament put up the argument that farmers would be unable to pay increased land rates since the cost for paddy has decreased by some 30 per cent. Cornel Damon, stated that, “The increased land rates is increased pressure to rice farmers that are already contending with VAT on water, electricity and education.”
Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix said this argument should be based on facts and that the government is simply trying to prevent the MMA/ADA from becoming another ‘bailout’ agricultural agency.
Those debating in favour of the government defended the land rates increase, noting that they are ‘reasonable’. They added that refusing the support the motion moved by the opposition member will strongly come against the fictitious irresponsible thinking of the opposition which touts that the land rate increases are ‘insensitive’.
Regional Representative on the government side Jennifer Wade looks forwards to a more developed agricultural sector since she said that farmers utilising MMA/ADA lands have experienced some amount of neglect since monies were unavailable to development and maintain lands.
The opposition said that the government’s hallmark is based on ‘new charges and taxes’.
Member of Parliament, Anil Nandalall who contributed to the debate said that government has failed at consultative democracy.
Basil Williams SC, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General
Attorney General Basil Williams said that the government is in no way acting out of order, but within full legislative rights.
“Might I respectfully refer you, sir, and the honourable members to sections 25:32of the MMA/ADA Act Chapter 70:01 which makes provision for financial procedures of the authority. The Act provides that state lands within the area held under a lease licence or permission in the possession or occupation of any person shall be liable and subject to charges for drainage and irrigation services, as well as rent charges,” Minister Williams noted.