BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, July 31, 2023 (MMS-SKN) — Federal Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Marine Resources and Cooperatives, the Hon Samal Duggins, on Friday July 28 debunked claims made in the media by a section of the farming community that his Ministry has employed a talk-down, big-stick approach when dealing with them.
Minister Duggins, and his Permanent Secretary Mr Miguel Flemming, were guests on WINN FM’s Island Tea morning programme, hosted by Mr Azard Gumbs, and Ms Candisie Franklin, where they were informed that the St. Kitts Consortium of Farmers has a paid slot on Island Tea where they come and express their views, and among others they would have complained of the poor relationship between them and the Ministry.
“When we have some of the farmers here, and I could think about what they have been saying to me – a discussion where it is that they are saying that there is no communication really happening between the Ministry and Minister of Agriculture and the Consortium,” said Mr Gumbs.
He added that the farmers had mentioned a meeting that they had and they said it seemed like a talk-down approach, rather than a conversation, with the Ministry telling them what to do from top-down, big-stick kind of policy.
“I am happy that you mentioned that, because I have heard much talk about it, and it is registered as a farmers’ group,” said Minister Duggins. “It is an organised group, a respected group, but I do not think they represent all the farmers. I have given all these farmers a place with the Consortium, I sat with them for nearly three hours, by themselves, and I would have had three other meetings, and at no time was less than two hours.”
Following what Minister Duggins said on the fact that the Consortium does not represent all the farmers, co-host Ms Candisie Franklin said: “I am happy you said that though, because when it started out we had just one person coming initially and then another person, and then we kept saying we need to hear from other farmers, because it can’t be a problem existing if there is only one person.”
Hon Duggins, who is also the Federal Minister of Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Sports and The Creative Economy, observed that some of the things that come out in the media in his opinion are disingenuous because when he had a meeting with the Consortium, along with his Permanent Secretary, the agenda was set by the Consortium.
“They came in with four points and then they opted not to discuss one of the four, so they discussed the three,” said Minister Duggins. “How you come up with that, you say there is no communication, that it is a talk-down approach, I do not understand. We are here to talk food security, and for me I try to make this separate from the politics, from everything else. I want this to be an agenda by itself, because it is a real problem.”
Host Mr Gumbs observed that he would have said it, with farmers in the studio and even when they weren’t in the studio, “and I could say it when you (Hon Duggins) are here – I have said that with the Ministry of Agriculture when I saw that you had that Ministry being a farmer yourself, I thought that Ministry would be booming and there won’t be this sort of disgruntled atmosphere, attitude, between the farmers and the Minister and your Ministry.”
Co-host Ms Franklin supported what Mr Gumbs said by adding: “And that was my impression as well. I was like ok, perfect, because sometimes when they assign ministries, I feel like some persons are not really – check with it like for instance Dr Geoffrey Hanley for Education was kind like a no-brainer. And so, when Hon Samal Duggins got Agriculture, that was also a no-brainer. I was like – perfect, he is into farming, this should be great.”
Permanent Secretary, Mr Miguel Flemming, stated that even in executing their duties one has to be mindful that there is a process and that they have made it clear the fact that they need to work the system, and even in their conversation with the Consortium they have made it clear.
“One of the things that they raised was duty free concessions and I made them aware that there was a memorandum of understanding from 2010,” noted Mr Flemming. “Tractors and tillers and all those type of things were part of that memorandum of understanding, but tractor parts are not listed, and I said to them, let us have a meeting with the person who is responsible and let us now forge that way forward, and say, look we want to have these included and see how we could work around it. It is never a case where we do not want to work with them, but again, it is a process.”
The Permanent Secretary reiterated that he has always made himself available to the members of the Consortium. He added: “The Minster can remember from the meeting, I said to them, how often do you want us to meet? I asked them that. I said let us have a date, I do not want to do it haphazardly, let us set a date so that we know every two weeks we have a meeting.”