The trinidad Guardian / If Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Minister Clarence Rambharat has his way, the $118 million allocated in the 2018 budget to pay staff and Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) would have been spent on highly trained, qualified and motivated workers to get the job done.

This was Rambharat’s response when asked on Thursday by Tabaquite MP Suruj Rambachan at a Finance Standing Committee if his ministry was getting value for money with this exorbitant wage bill.

“I would answer it in this way, given a completely free hand to re-organise how we spend that wage bill…how we utilise…I would not be doing it in this way. We ought to be spending it behind high, quality technical people, paid well, and highly motivated to do the job.”

It’s a flexibility Rambaharat said the ministry does not have.

“So it takes a lot longer to get certain changes done in the ministry.”

In his opening remarks in Parliament, Rambharat admitted that the ministry was impeded to a great degree as there were 404 vacancies which needed to be filled.

This figure comprises 20 per cent of vacancies that currently exist.

The ministry was allocated $771 million in the 2018 budget.

Rambachan asked Rambharat what goals he had set for the agriculture sector to increase food production and to justify the $118 million that will be paid in salaries and COLA to the ministry’s workers in the next fiscal year.

“So the target we have set is to effect the behavioural change in this country by putting production and produce closer to consumers …making it available and promoting the idea of supporting local production through changes in consumption patterns,” Rambharat said.

One way food production can increase was by improving the productivity of workers, Rambharat said.

“We have limitations in what we can do as ministers. The Permanent Secretary and directors at the ministry have a responsibility to ensure that people show up for work and they are productive.”

He said what was needed was getting the right skills and people to support the production of farmers, which would not happen overnight.

Rambharat said the ministry had commissioned a review of the ministry of which a final report was delivered in August with implementation taking place this fiscal year.

The report recommended in some areas of the ministry private/ public partnership.

He said the ministry has physical assets in Mora Valley, Aripo and Mongelo “placed in the hands completely or partially of the private sector that would reduce the burden on the ministry, but also provide the boost in food production that we need when it comes to livestock.”


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