Debate halted! - Senate finds holes in Agri bill that sailed through Lower House
There was only one amendment that the House of Representatives made when it approved a bill to establish the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) to merge and replace the cocoa and coffee industry boards.
The bill reached the Senate yesterday and members of the Upper House, while supporting its intention, found a litany of issues for which they raised concerns.
In the end, and to the relief of members, Kamina Johnson Smith, leader of government business, said she was suspending the debate on the bill to consider the several proposals to improve the legislation.
The bill seeks to bring the trade regulation of coffee, cocoa, coconut and spice, including nutmeg, turmeric, pimento and ginger, to international standards.
However, issues were raised with, among other things, the proposed penalties for breaches, tax exemptions, and the period for which licences to be issued by the JACRA would last.
Opposition Senator KD Knight said the proposal for courts to impose both fines and imprisonment for breach of offences was "illogical" and appears to have been going against a policy of Government in recent years not to include those provisions in new laws.
"If the policymakers are saying that in the circumstances where the behaviour is so reprehensible that there ought to be severe punishment, then what you do is increase the fine or increase the term of imprisonment. It's not logical to have both because it is not going to lead anywhere," Knight declared.
Commenting on the bill, Mark Golding said the heftier fines and longer imprisonment period for breach of offences under the JACRA bring into question the less punitive measures for breaches of the Praedial Larceny Act, which has fines set up to $20,000 although it can be higher if read with the Larceny Act.
Under the JACRA, a person convicted of breaches in a Parish Court can be fined up to $3 million or face a prison term of up to three years. If the case goes before the Supreme Court, a judge can set whatever fine deemed appropriate or sentence the convict to up to 10 years.
"For a long time, people have been calling for more serious offences for praedial larceny. It is the bane of the farmer that him sow an a nex man reap. Let us not use this opportunity to modernise the penalties applicable across the board to the theft of agriculture produce," he argued.
"Let us not create this disequilibrium between tiefing a man's ginger or him coconut as opposed to tiefing him yam or his orange. There's no logic behind it, and who knows how that might motivate criminals."
Golding also raised concern about the proposal in the bill for the JACRA to be exempt from income tax.
Senators, including govern-ment member Ransford Braham, were almost unanimous in their agreement that the one-year life of licences was too short.