Charles wants meeting with ombudsman on sugar payments issue

Charles wants meeting with ombudsman on sugar payments issue

Senior staff reporter

Monday, August 31, 2020

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FORMER Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles says that Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown was misled by information she had received regarding the handing out of payments to employees of his sugar farm in St Thomas, on Friday.

Charles explained that the handing out of cheques was not a Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) event and was not connected to any government-related institution, nor were the funds distributed to the workers to “buy votes”.

He called for a meeting with Parchment Brown to discuss issues she has raised about the handing out of the funds to displaced sugar workers as well as an apology.

In a release on Saturday, general secretary of Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Julian Robinson urged the political ombudsman to investigate the matter, accusing Pearnel Charles Sr and his daughter Dr Michelle Charles, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for St Thomas Eastern, of bribery under the Representation of the People Act.

Charles and his daughter were seen in a Television Jamaica news report handing out cheques to the sugar workers. Dr Charles told the workers: “I am very happy for those who received some funding today. Most of you know who I am. Most of you know that election is coming up and I am not going to pretend that it is not political because I need your votes.”

Yesterday, Charles Sr told the Jamaica Observer that earlier this year his family-owned St Thomas Farms had teamed with the management of two other major sugar cane farms in the parish — Fred M Jones Estates and Beirsing Farms, a subsidiary of Sankar Limited farms — to bargain with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) for funds for daily-paid workers employed by the farms during the sugar crop and who did not benefit from the lump sum payments made in April after Seprod Limited closed down operations at its Golden Grove Sugar Factory in the parish.

“It took us six months to reach an agreement with the ministry, under which it had agreed to pay the workers who were not fully employed to Seprod and who were not included in the original payment,” Charles said.

He said that as the proprietor of St Thomas Farms, he had the responsibility to hand out the payments to this category of workers who were not previously compensated. However, he noted that the handing out event was attended by both candidates for St Thomas Eastern in Thursday’s general election — Dr Fenton Ferguson of the People’s National Party (PNP) and Dr Charles of the JLP — both of whom are well-known in the parish and were dressed in their party colours.

“Therefore, monies were not given to the workers to buy their votes. This money was what my company was given to give to the workers for years of service to the sugar industry in St Thomas who were not included in the first round of payment,” he added.

The discussions started between MICAF and the major sugar farms in St Thomas, after the non-payment to the casual workers had threatened to erupt in violent strikes and over 1,300 acres of cane were destroyed by fire allegedly set by disgruntled cane growers.

Charles Sr said that a total of $30 million has been paid out to the workers by the farms, including $1.6 million paid to those connected to his farm.

He urged the ombudsman to publicly apologise to him and his family for attempting to embarrass them by making the contents of her letter public prior to making any attempt to contact him or his family on the matter.

“You could have easily contacted me with regards to any information before publicly attempting to embarrass myself and my family. You could have made contact with the SCJ (Sugar Company of Jamaica) or the SPF (Sugar Producers Federation) for a full statement, or any advice you had wished for on this matter,” Charles Sr stated.

“You are aware that Dr Ferguson attended the meeting and spoke, demanding that the workers should get $100,000 instead of $50,000. Yet, he did not know what the money was about,” Charles Sr stated.

“I am seeking a meeting with you within 24 hours to have this matter settled with a full withdrawal of the letter and an apology is requested,” added Charles Sr.

In his release on Saturday, Robinson said the Opposition “welcomes the payments to the farmers, but neither Mr Charles nor Dr Charles had any locus-standi to be handing out cheques on behalf of the Government”.

Pearnel Charles Sr is a veteran Member of Parliament who had represented the JLP in St Thomas Eastern as well as Clarendon North Central. His son, Charles Jr, is seeking re-election in Clarendon South Eastern, while his daughter, Michelle, who like Dr Ferguson is a dentist, is seeking to reclaim the St Thomas seat for the JLP.

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