Sugar payout queried

SUGARCANE growers across the Western Division are asking questions of Government’s $4 million special cane payment that was delivered last week.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had announced the payment last Thursday, saying it was part of the Tropical Cyclone Winston Relief payment that was allocated in the 2017-2018 National Budget and nearly 10,000 farmers would benefit from it.

Some growers do not understand how the payment formula was worked out because of the disparity in amounts received by farmers.

According to the Fiji Sugar Corporation, the special assistance payment was designed to alleviate the burden on growers imposed by TC Winston.

The FSC said 1692 growers who were fully assisted in 2017 were not included in this Special Cane Payment.

“The assistance payment had two components — the first was a payment to cover Sugar Cane Grower Fund (SCGF) loan repayments for TC Winston relief loans,” said FSC in the statement.

“The second part was assistance to cover deductions that growers would have had to make for amounts due to iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB), Fiji Development Bank (FDB), SCGF, Lands Department and South Pacific Fertilizers (SPF).

“In summary, a total of 5127 growers who received nothing in 2017, received the largest share of this Special Payment. A total of 4855 growers received proportionately less as they partially benefitted from the 2017 payment.”

Arun Sharma a grower from Naloto Sector, Ba, claimed the reaction of farmers in Ba was not “positive”.

“Only some farmers received good amounts from this payment — some got $1000 or even more,” he claimed.

“But there are a lot of farmers who received very less — some got less than $50.”

The Fiji Times sighted statements that substantiated this, and also statements on social media of a grower receiving 79 cents.

“So there are a lot of frustrated and disappointed farmers because of the timing of this payment,” Mr Sharma claimed.

“This is for TC Winston and they want to know why is this payment being done now.

“Nobody knows how it was worked out and what formula they used, so there is a lot of confusion and suspicion from growers right now.”

National Farmers Union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry said the onus was on Government or the FSC to offer an explanation for the payment.

“Growers have been comparing figures on payments and some, who produced a lot of cane, cannot understand why they received less payment than others who produced less cane,” he claimed.

“They need to give calculations to farmers as to how they arrived to this figure because at the moment there is no transparency.

“There has to be a statement with an explanation or formula, for the sake of transparency that needs to be done.”

Meanwhile, Mr Bainimarama issued a statement last week where he announced specific aid packages for canefarmers.

He said Government would pay 12 months lease payments for all farmers on iTaukei or State land for residential and agricultural purposes.

The Sugarcane-Care program will cover the cost of replacing fertiliser that was washed away for all cane planted between November last year to date.

Government would also conduct clearing of debris in cane growing regions and clear all in-field drainage and waterways.

Mr Bainimarama said applications should be made through the FSC sector offices.

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