Remarks by the Hon. Derrick Kellier, CD MP Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
The Sensitization Seminar The Praedial Larceny Prevention Programme For Clerks of the Court
January 16, 2016
Jewel Runaway Beach and Golf Resort
It is truly a pleasure to welcome you all here this morning.
I am especially pleased to welcome the Chief Justice and the representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Constabulary Force because their presence and participation in this seminar serves to reinforce just how serious we as a Government are in tackling the criminal offences of praedial larceny and farm theft.
Praedial larceny not only literally robs our honest hardworking farmers and their families of the opportunity to reap what they have sown, nurtured and grown, but it is also the greatest deterrent to agricultural growth, given that this scourge discourages new players from entering and investing in the sector. This crime undermines productivity; threatens livelihoods and is a crime that must be arrested.
It is worth repeating, in a forum such as this one, that our estimates are that some $5 billion is lost annually as a consequence of praedial larceny and farm theft.
It is a serious national crime and so, for many years, we have sought to implement various prevention measures to curb this crime.
The Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, of course, has recognised for some time now that we were not crime fighters and we did not have the requisite skills and tools within our Ministry to effectively deal with praedial larceny, and so we were very happy when the Ministries of Finance, Security and Justice joined forces with us to establish the special Praedial Larceny Prevention Coordination Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in March of 2015.
And what a difference that is making. The team of DSP Kevin Francis, Sgt Damion Harry, Ms Trudy-Ann Edwards and Ms Kehianne Campbell is a small one, but we know what we Jamaicans say about being likkle but…tallawah.
Please join me in congratulating this team on their outstanding work to date.
Having the Jamaica Constabulary Force leading the Anti-Praedial Larceny charge, we expected and have indeed witnessed an intensification of operations on the ground.
We have also had support from the private sector in bolstering our efforts.
Since the inception of the Unit, 133 persons have been arrested and charged for various offences by the officers in the unit. These offences include, Possession of Agricultural Produce without a Receipt, Unlawful Possession of Property, Butchering without a Licence, Selling Uninspected Meat and several other breaches. A total of 116 persons have been prosecuted and 17 cases are still before the Court. Over 190 stolen animals and 19 boxes of bees have been recovered. The Unit has also embarked on a public education campaign to engender awareness on the seriousness of praedial larceny and other farm theft. Police Officers have been sensitized and trained on how to treat praedial larceny cases, prepare case files and develop better relationships with community members through the National Farm Watch Programme. Farmers, butchers, the Lay Magistrate Association of Jamaica, Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association, rural communities and other key stakeholders have been sensitized on the deleterious impact of praedial larceny on the nation.
In order to achieve a significant decline in farm theft, an environment must be created in which would-be offenders will be deterred from committing such acts. In creating this environment, it is imperative that praedial larceny is no longer viewed as a petty crime linked to the stealing of farmers’ produce. Instead, the perspective of the Judiciary and the Jamaican public must be that of a crime which threatens the food security of the nation. In this regard, as for all crimes which have such social and economic consequences, the penalties awarded under the law and the manner in which the Court discharges its duties must fit the serious nature of the crime.
Against this background, the sensitization of the Resident Magistrates and Clerks of Court is imperative to facilitate the reduction in the number of farmers and fishers who fall victim to farm theft and the frequencies in which they experience the loss.
Statistics from Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Operations Branch reveals that praedial larceny-related cases go through the system at a sluggish rate, and this must be effectively addressed.
Bails, delays and postponements which are common in praedial larceny cases have exacerbated the situation as it provides added opportunities for praedial larcenists to continue stealing farmers/ fishers produce. Reportedly, there are times when the entire harvest is eventually taken by the same thief while on bail.
The continued upward trend of praedial larceny incidences, some of which are committed by repeat offenders, suggest that thieves are not deterred by the penalties awarded. As recently as October 6, 2015, 10 persons arrested and charged by the Unit for breaches under the Agricultural Produce Act were admonished and discharged, despite entering a guilty plea. Farmers also complain about the lengthy process of getting justice for theft of their agricultural produce. This must be effectively addressed.
It would appear that the laws that impact praedial larceny prevention are complicated and multifaceted in implementation and have created some challenges for enforcement officers.
Praedial larceny cases are often thrown out of court because the wrong charges are assigned to offences and enforcement officers are forced to pull on different pieces of legislation to maximize conviction.
In order to speed up the process of providing justice to our farmers who suffer farm theft and praedial larceny, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Justice have been working assiduously to amend the legislations governing the theft of agricultural produce.
As I indicated at the launch of the Unit in March, we have indeed worked on a comprehensive slew of legislative amendments to support our anti- praedial larceny thrust. Consequently, the Agricultural Produce Act has been amended to significantly increase the fines and sentences for breaches and the Praedial Larceny (Prevention) Act is currently being reviewed by the Ministry’s Legal and Technical Committee.
In this regard, collaborating with the Ministry of Justice to host workshops is a critical step in the overall objective to establish and operationalize policy, legislative and institutional frameworks for praedial larceny prevention and risk reduction.
The objectives of the sensitization sessions for the Resident Magistrates and Clerks of Courts are therefore to:
Today’s session is the first of two planned for Clerks of Court and Resident Magistrates in January and February 2016.
As we know, the prevention of praedial larceny is not just about police operations. It is also about convicting and deterring the criminals and a critical element is the installation of a proper traceability system.
In that regard work on the National Animal Identification and Traceability System is proceeding apace, with Government-owned herds having been tagged. Work on the certification of our laboratories and the legislation is advanced so that in addition to ensuring safe food and good animal health practices, the national tagging programme will also contribute to our praedial larceny prevention efforts.
I believe this seminar today is a good note on which to start the New Year. On behalf of the Ministry and indeed on behalf of the 230,000 farmers of Jamaica, I wish to thank my colleague Ministers, the leadership and membership of the judiciary and the JCF.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all have a stake in this drive to arrest a scourge that threatens our food security and our livelihood. We must all be partners against crime and I look forward to working with all our stakeholders as we continue to implement a comprehensive praedial larceny prevention programme.
Thank you and may God bless us all and grant us success in our efforts!