Over the past few days, details of land transactions involving the Sugar Corporation of Jamaica (SCJ) and parties connected to the Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, the Hon. J. C. Hutchinson MP, have been reported in the public media.
As Head of the Government of Jamaica, I am committed to ensuring the highest standards of accountability, probity, transparency and integrity in the administration of public affairs. Acting in this regard, I have consulted with the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries the Hon. Audley Shaw, MP and Permanent Secretary Dermon Spence. In addition, I met with Minister Hutchinson and had frank and meaningful discussions on matters of current concern.
Our discussions centred on an examination of the general details of transactions in question, the policy intent behind the transactions, and the administrative and legal requirements of such transactions; analyzed against the ethical standards and code of conduct of ministers outlined in Ministry Paper no.19. At the conclusion of our meeting, Minister Hutchinson reaffirmed his commitment to the principles of good governance, ministerial responsibility and the standards set out in the Code of Conduct.
From my discussions with Minister Shaw, Permanent Secretary Spence and Minister Hutchinson, I am satisfied that the intent of Minister Hutchinson’s actions, which were to make former sugar farm lands available to small farmers, was in keeping with GOJ policy. Nevertheless, there were clear breaches of established procedures in implementation to provide for transparency, competition and disclosure. The fact that, 184 small farmers benefited from having access to the said lands, and these farmers are cultivating the lands in an orderly manner, do not, by themselves, cure these breaches.
As such, I have issued the following directions:
1/ The Holland Estate lands should be immediately turned over to the Agricultural Investment Corporation (AIC) without prejudice to the small farmers who would have entered into occupancy arrangements in good faith.
2/ Steps should be taken to terminate any arrangements that allow for non-farm commercial operations on the lands. Any future commercial opportunities on these lands should be advertised and tendered in accordance with GOJ guidelines.
3/ The SCJ is to immediately cease all land transactions that may be in progress including divestments and leases, pending a review by the Cabinet Office to ensure that the procedures followed for proposed transactions are in accordance with GOJ policies.
4/ The SCJ is to provide a historical listing of all land transactions over the last decade, including divestments and leases, with a disclosure of counter-parties and beneficial owners.
5/ Minster Shaw should review the operation and governance of the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA) to ensure that there are no other undisclosed connected-party arrangements in the implementation of any of its programmes, and where such relationships are discovered, to take the necessary action to ensure they are removed.
In addition, effective immediately, Minister J.C. Hutchinson will be relieved of responsibilities he held in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries and transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister. Also, effective immediately, Minister Leslie Campbell will be assigned to the MICAF as Minister without Portfolio.