|Deputy Permanent Secretary, Lennox Chandler. (FP)|
Praedial larceny is a matter for the police and not the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management.
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Lennox Chandler, made this clear today in light of the increasing incidence of crop theft.
"I don’t know why [people] are trying to make it seem as though it is the Ministry’s business to police it. Anything that has to do with breaking the law is the jurisdiction of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF)," he explained.
In fact, Mr. Chandler posited that the number of cases reported to the police – 30 cases in 2011 and 40 cases recorded last year – was not indicative of the true extent of the problem. He added that while there was legislation, namely the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act Cap 142A, the challenge came in enforcing it.
He disclosed that in the past, the Ministry met with members of the Force to discuss the setting up of a Praedial Larceny Squad, but was told "it would be too costly". The Deputy Permanent Secretary pointed out, however, that similar squads which had been set up in other Caribbean territories such as Trinidad, had to be disbanded because they were not operating effectively. He contended that praedial larceny should be treated as any other case of theft but, unfortunately, it was not viewed seriously enough by individuals or law enforcement officials for that matter.
"The problem is not the legislation, it is enforcement. If we passed legislation and say, a person caught stealing from a farm would be charged $1 million, for example, if that person is not prosecuted, it makes no sense. In the absence of that [enforcement] people are stealing all over the place.
"You have to arrest people and charge them for stealing produce. Right now, the penalty is at $5,000. We [the Ministry] wanted to take it to $20,000 but that would take it out of the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Courts and place it in the High Court. If [these cases] are not getting to the Magistrates’ Courts as it stands now what chance do they have of getting to [the] High Court??? So, if the penalty is increased, the cut-off point will be $10,000," Mr. Chandler explained.
He noted that the included a provision for "restitution" where the court could order the culprit to pay the victim the value of the stolen produce.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary advised persons that the Ministry also offered incentives for farmers who wanted to install security or surveillance equipment on their farms, as part of its Agricultural Incentives Programme.
He explained that there is a one-time rebate of 50 per cent of the cost up to a maximum of $10,000 for an approved farm security system to protect against praedial larceny. This system may be physical, electric, electronic or any other kind which does not breach the laws of Barbados and meet the requirements of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Unfortunately, he added, closed circuit television images can not be used as evidence in court but they could help in identifying the culprit(s).
Mr. Chandler said praedial larceny was not only a serious criminal matter but it also posed public health risks since stolen crops could be reaped and sold to consumers too soon after being sprayed with pesticides. He encouraged members of the public to be vigilant and do their part in eliminating this scourge by reporting cases.