Not for the first time, direct intervention by Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat was necessary to resolve a matter involving businesspeople served by a unit under his portfolio.
The minister publicly offered his own e-mail address as the go-to point for businesspeople experiencing frustrations and heavy losses through performance failures in government departments, recalling his face-to-face intervention on behalf of Aranjuez farmers in their dispute over licences to extract water for their crops during this year’s harsh dry season.
Mr Rambharat was recently on location in Aranjuez to assist affected farmers with application forms for water extraction licences. This week he was responding to complaints by businesspeople vainly seeking import permits for food items such as carrots, potatoes, legumes, and cabbage. The complaints of mysterious delays in the issuing of import permits were relayed to the Express by four anonymous importers.
The complaints drew concerned responses from Mr Rambharat, who had already secured an audit report suggesting possible fraud in that unit. Noting “resistance” to some of the changes ordered, and implying this as connected to the delays, Mr Rambharat’s involvement had immediate positive results for businesspeople who, just as mysteriously, promptly received the necessary clearances. Before this, they had heard questionable excuses such as the breakdown of a machine to print permits. Others had been given runarounds such as telephone calls repeatedly unanswered by staff.
The Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) has meanwhile criticised a “crisis of inefficiency being imposed on the productive sectors of the national economy” as a result of delays reaching 20 days for Customs inspection and release of containers. DOMA called for consultation toward speeding-up operational strategies.
Speaking for the Finance Ministry, Senator Allyson West admitted heightened Customs scrutiny was necessitated by security concerns, adding that three public holidays in June worsened the delays.
But a wider pattern was observed by one of the businessmen affected by non-issuance of permits who described as a “master mentality” the frequent need for direct ministerial intervention to get things done in the Public Service. While thanking the minister for his efficiency, the businessman identified the key challenge: how to make that efficiency trickle down to public servants for the benefit of all.
Mr Rambharat’s hands-on management of his portfolio, accessibility and demonstrated interest in those served by his ministry are laudable. Beyond recognition of his efforts, however, is the embedded problem of public service inefficiency, arbitrariness, fraud and lack of accountability.
Evidently, Mr Rambharat, through disclosures about an audit of the Plant Quarantine Unit, is cognizant of this.