MINISTER of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha said Monday that Panama’s ability to pay the $1.9 billion owed to local rice millers has been unavoidably constrained due to the adverse affects of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
During an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI) on Monday, Minister Mustapha said that the Spanish-speaking country has acknowledged the debt, and has committed to paying off the sum in full.
Guyana has shipped a substantial quantity of rice to Panama after contracts were signed in 2018 and 2019, however, only part of the payment has been made on the 2018 agreement. In a letter to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), dated March 29, 2021, the Panamanian authorities stated that while they are willing to honour any pending debts to Guyana, they still need to comply with their own laws.
“Since the contracts with Guyana Rice Development Board were concluded in another government period, we must comply with the respective authorisations and approvals,” the Panamanians said in their letter.
They also said in the letter that COVID-19 has forced the country into a state of emergency, and that the government has had to channel all its efforts and financial resources into solving the sanitary problems and the consequences to the population.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, with this letter we want to assure you that we will be responding to your request. I have instructed that the accounts be reviewed, without entire disposition to generate a payment process, as applicable by law,” the Panamanians said.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government, since being elected to office, has taken robust steps to ensure that Panama pays the outstanding sums.
On November 27, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation dispatched a letter to Panama, urging it to honour its obligations. This measure
was taken as the government continues to take urgent steps to retrieve the outstanding sums. President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali had also intervened.
Despite the circumstances, the Panamanian Government continues to show interest in Guyana’s rice.
“They have also indicated their interest that they want to continue with the contract that we have, but I am waiting for this meeting, and IICA (the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture) is making the arrangement,” Minister Mustapha explained.
He blames the previous A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government for the delays, noting that if it had shown interest in the farmers, the dilemma would not have occurred.
The previous administration said that it was not responsible for farmers being owed by millers for rice shipped to Panama.