Pandora unable to honour court order on money - Ishoof
Says farmers have received part payment
Stabroek News
January 17, 2004

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Chief Executive Officer of Pandora Rice Inc, Scheherazade Ishoof says her company is unable to honour the Supreme Court order to deposit $12.9 million with the court's registrar, which is the amount of money allegedly owed to 36 rice farmers.

Ishoof told this newspaper on Thursday in an interview that her business was cash-strapped and did not have the money. She could not say definitively how soon the farmers would get their money.

Meanwhile, Attorney-at-law, Priya Manickchand who is looking into the interest of the farmers said the order had not been served on Ishoof, since whenever the court's marshal visited her home or business place neither she nor her company secretary could be found. The order was finally served on Ishoof yesterday.

Justice Claudette La Bennett ruled on Wednesday that the milling company must deposit with the Registrar of the Supreme Court within 24 hours the sum of $12,926,725 which is the total owed to rice farmers who supplied paddy to the company between the months of September and October 2003.

Ishoof said her company was trying to work out a system whereby it could pay the farmers. However, she said it was not only those farmers who took her to court who she owed but several others who if they made similar demands would aggravate the situation.

Some of the farmers had claimed debt in excess of $2 million but Ishoof said even though she has not paid farmers in full, most of them would have received between 50%-75% of their payments already.

Asked when farmers could expect the rest of their money, Ishoof said she was not in a position to promise them since she is still to receive full payment for rice shipped to Jamaica. She said even if she had received the money it would have been very difficult to settle all of the farmers' debts. "They need to wait until we balance off ourselves, the company invested a lot of money into the rice mill and we have not been getting the sort of returns yet. We are going to pay them, but they must wait and have some patience."

The farmers who had picketed Ishoof's Begonia Avenue, Bel Air home on Wednesday had told this newspaper that they were very frustrated, since even though the company was indebted to them, management was not forthright.

One farmer said that he was forced to take a loan so as to continue his business, while others said they could not adequately service their crops due to lack of finance.

Ishoof said she wanted to continue operations at the mill, even though it would be a real challenge. Ever since the company took over the government-owned Burma Rice Mill it has always failed to make timely payments to farmers.

But Ishoof said the reason why that happened was because a financial intermediary had mishandled her company's funds. The CEO explained that usually she would pay the farmers directly from her foreign currency. She said money from export sales was usually transferred to her intermediary in Guyana, but the intermediary on many occasions could not account for the money and as such, the farmers' payments were delayed.

She said too that such a situation led her into paying farmers with post-dated cheques which also caused a lot of problems.

"But even though they are complaining it is the norm in the rice industry almost all of the millers pay farmers with post-dated cheques and some of them take as long as I do to make payments to them, but it seems like it is a ploy to run me out of business. Nobody pickets the other millers, nobody speaks so bad about the other millers, but we (were) only in this business for less than a month and look at their reaction," Ishoof declared.

According to the CEO, Burma is the largest rice mill in Guyana and is providing a far better service than many of the other mills. She said when they first took over the mill numerous farmers used to sell their paddy to Pandora. "But now all the rice agencies bad-mouthing us and since that start to happen there has been a drop in our customers."

In terms of payment arrangements, Ishoof said she usually made a first payment to farmers two weeks after they delivered their paddy; they would receive the balance within the next eight weeks. Ishoof was confident that this was the standard system within the industry.

She said for the last crop which ended last year November she bought some 43,000 bags of paddy from the farmers. Paddy, which she purchased from the spring crop, has already been paid for, she said, the current arrears are only for the last crop.