The reluctance of the Government of Saint Lucia to guarantee an EC$1.9 million loan from the Saint Lucia Development Bank (SLDB) to the National Fair Trade Organisation Saint Lucia Limited (NFTOSL) is causing anxiety amongst farmers who, for the past four weeks, have yet to be paid for exported fruit.
Efforts to get a comment from Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph have not been fruitful, however farmers, are calling on him and the rest of his Cabinet colleagues, reminding them of their responsibility to the industry which right now is struggling due to the financial collapse of WINFRESH West Indies which market and sell fruit on their behalf.
WINFRESH currently owes the NFTOSL EC$8 million of which the Government of Saint Lucia, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Invest Saint Lucia, advanced the NFTOSL EC$2.4 million. According to the NFTOSL Chairman Eustace Monrose, "the Minister specifically said that this was an advance on behalf of WINFRESH."
Monrose said these monies, along with the reserves of the NFTOSL, have all been used up, hence the call on government for assistance, an assistance Monrose said the NFTOSL will repay and of which will be of no cost to government.
He said that from October 2020, the NFTOSL has been speaking to Minister Joseph of its need for some extra cash since it will be dealing directly with supermarkets in the United Kingdom, now that WINFRESH is no longer viable.
"We expressed to the Minister that going direct will carry with it certain responsibilities, that is we may need a greater cash outlay which will require temporary cash support for the purchase of packaging materials and some other attendant costs. All we are asking is for government to facilitate a loan of $1.9 million from the Development Bank and an advance of $500,000 from Invest Saint Lucia while we await the approval of the loan.
"However, we were stopped in out tracks when we were told by Invest Saint Lucia that they required a letter from the Development Bank that they will approve the loan. The bank has written and said that they required a government guarantee and the Minister for Agriculture informed that government will not give the guarantee unless they have the chair of the NFTOSL," Monrose.
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