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Fulton vows ‘clean up’ at JAS before departure IPO

Jamaica Agricultural Society President Lenworth Fulton has cited three court cases and problems with the delegate’s list of eligible voters as the reasons for the derailment of the group’s annual general meeting on July 12.

There is also the matter regarding timely remission of money due to the society to be tackled.

Fulton, who has served as JAS president since September 2018, is recovering from a stroke and not seeking re-election to the century-old institution.

The JAS is an umbrella body for farmers supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Mining. It was founded in 1895 but incorporated as a voluntary organisation in 1941. It’s considered an agency of the agriculture ministry.

The postponement of the July meeting was the second delay of what would have been its 126th elections. The first arose from a court injunction filed by a member of the society last year on the basis that notice of the meeting had been issued four days late.

However, Fulton said the court claim was simply used as an excuse to derail the meeting. The real issue, he said, was that there had been only one nominee for president at the time, and many members were opposed to the person’s candidacy.

This time the elections were postponed again because: “The list of delegates needed some refinement with JACRA and others refusing to participate,” he said. “We also had a meeting with the commodity board and they decided they are not happy, so they are not participating, either. They feel the list is being manipulated by staff, which should not be.”

JACRA, the state regulator of agricultural commodities which was created by statute six years ago, is a member of the JAS and has voting rights.

Still, Fulton noted that the substantive case filed in the Supreme Court last year is yet to be determined by the court, but is due for hearing in December. That also factored into the current postponement, Fulton added.

The society is currently riven by controversy, with allegations of manipulation of the delegate’s list – a matter discussed with Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green on Monday, July 17. Out of those discussions, it was decided, Fulton said, to create a commission to investigate the situation in the JAS.

Some delegates were also left off the list of accredited voters, which the society’s president said required investigation.

Fulton, whose movements have been curtailed by the stroke, said he is being sidelined by board members because of it, but asserted to the Financial Gleaner that there was nothing wrong with his mind, in defence of his mental acuity.

“I have a stroke and I am not up and down as at one time. They try to take advantage of my disability. But no one should run jokes with me. I still function. If I do not tell you I have had a stroke, no one knows,” he said.

“People feel if you have a stroke and become wheelchair-bound you should be thrown into the lake of fire. That is how members of my board behave,” said the industry veteran who has served the sector for about four decades in various capacities.

As for the funds that are collected but not turned over on a timely basis to the society, Fulton said he wants to resolve that issue before his term ends. JAS owns about 26 commercial properties across Jamaica. And some of the parish associations that collect rental on behalf of JAS are said to be to keeping the money within their chapter, instead of turning it over to the group operation.

“All of that I am going to clean up before I leave,” Fulton asserted.

The JAS is currently in debt to its bankers for $60 million, with another $25 million owed to other creditors.

The Government of Jamaica provides the society with $80 million annually, which is used to pay salaries for staff. There are plans to divest JAS, but nothing will go forward until new elections are held.

The last annual meeting of the JAS was held virtually in December 2020. However, there have been no elections since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The derailed elections that should have happened in 2021 had six approved candidates vying for different positions: Clifton Grant and Albert Green for president, Owen Dobson and Tamisha Lee for first vice-president, and Kayan Whyne and Trevor Bernard for second vice-president. Two among the six are now petitioning the Supreme Court for a hearing as they have not been included among the 2023 nominees.

The current nominees are: Owen Dobson from Westmoreland, Albert Green of Kingston & St Andrew, and Fabian Rhule of St Mary, who are vying for the presidency; Tamisha Lee from the network of rural women producers and Audrey Nelson from Trelawny for first vice-president; and Trevor Bernard of the Small Ruminant Society and Horace Ogilvie of Thomas for second vice-president.

The names missing from the delegate’s list, said Fulton, included JAS St Elizabeth President Bridget Powell and Portland JAS President Lawrence Robinson.

“They were excluded from the process, and so the two parishes wrote me. And based on those letters, I postponed the AGM,” he said.

“We are going to set up a commission to look into the whole electoral process of the JAS,” Fulton added.

Given the court cases, and the JAS’s upcoming signatory calendar event, the Denbigh Agriculture Show, the JAS president said the meeting and elections are unlikely to be held any time soon.

“There can be nothing in August, because of the Denbigh Agricultural Show. It will be … the biggest of all shows that we have ever held,” he affirmed.

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