Flawed rice deal under APNU/AFC : Guyana still trying to recover millions owed by Panama – AG

File photo: Rice being loaded onto a ship

The Guyana Government is still actively trying to recover the millions of dollars owed by the Government of Panama over a flawed rice deal that was struck under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government in 2018.
Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall on Tuesday shared that legal proceedings have been filed at the International Chamber of Arbitration in France in an attempt to recover the monies owed to local rice farmers.
“Monies have to be expended to retain international lawyers to prosecute and defend these claims. And these are the people who are running around this country and accusing our Government of being antinational and unpatriotic and that this their legacy,” Nandlall remarked during his programme “Issues in the News”.
On April 13, 2018, a contract was signed between the Government of Panama and the then APNU/AFC Administration for the supply of some 9000 tonnes of rice, with the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) being the facilitator.
Reports indicate that after the rice was shipped, a partial payment was made, but the balance, which has now accumulated significant interest, remains outstanding to date. There was another contract signed in 2019, for which no payment was made to Guyana, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha had told the State-owned Guyana Chronicle.
“In the 2018 contract only a part payment was received; and the second contract in 2019, not a cent was received, so the additional funds from the first, along with the last, are owed to the millers,” Mustapha is quoted as saying.
“US$7.1 million along with interest they left abandoned in Panama. Our Government now has to shoulder the responsibility and take the necessary legal recourse to recover these monies on behalf of our rice farmers,” Nandlall contended.
Since taking office in August 2020, the Dr Irfaan Ali-led Government had made several attempts through the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry as well as through the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), among other avenues, to recover the monies owed, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, it was reported in September 2022 that two Essequibo Coast rice millers had moved to the High Court in order to secure the payment of millions of dollars owed to them by the GRDB for the supply of rice to the Panamanian market in 2018.
“These are farmers who delivered the rice to the Rice Board as instructed by the Government of the day. The Government of the day boasted that they secured a new market for rice, sold and delivered the rice farmers’ rice and the millers’ rice on credit and never attempted to recover any payment,” the AG lamented.
In February 2021, Agriculture Minister Mustapha had said that Guyana was in discussion with Panamanian authorities over the $1.9 billion owed to Guyana.