At least one district coordinator of the Unity Labour Party-led government’s Love Box programme reached out to Asbert News Network in an effort to correct the narrative behind 2 videos that were sent to us. The recordings were narrated by a man who was off-camera for the duration of both clips.
Dennis Samuel was prompted to debunk the resulting article which featured, in the main, North Leeward MP Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews’ response to one of the video recordings.
MP Matthews told ANN audiences, live On The Spot, last Wednesday, “this has been happening a long time, in terms of the wastage. I did my own investigation to find out why are there so many wastage [sic] at this particular collecting and packaging centre in Rose Bank. .. I understand that some of the produce that was spoilt before was discarded so this has to be a new batch…
“From my investigations two reasons result in that wastage that you are showing on your screen…. One – they only give to certain people and because there was so much so everybody didn’t get and the rest was left to spoil because they didn’t give it to NDP supporters. Another reason: in the name of politics some of the produce that they buy was of a sub-standard nature and as a result they were easy to spoil.”
Love Box supervisor Samuel claimed MP Matthews’ information was misleading. Samuel told us that the videos in fact captured, in part, the rejected produce that was left over after the local produce redistribution programme’s qualified graders would have sorted through the harvests brought in by farmers in the constituency.
“When a farmer brings his produce we grade them. What does not make the grade do not go in the boxes; we don’t buy them. A lot of the farmers from North Leeward don’t have transportation to bring their produce. It is difficult sometimes for them to remove the [rejected] produce because that would be additional costs for them,” Samuel said via phone early Saturday morning. Additionally foods are also leftover from those used to stock the boxes.
These disallowed foods are normally left at the sorting and packing centre and community based pig farmers and not so picky constituents, who, according to Samuel, are expressly reminded that those produce were rejected for whatever defect or other, would avail themselves of these stores.
The images captured in the videos were the result of 2 separate developments, Samuel also explained. On the one hand the programme’s staff had recently conducted a routine cleaning and clearing of the packing and storage space.
“We had a week of cleaning because the reality is we’re dealing with food. We can’t be buying and packing in a building and not clean it. We had a week of cleaning and the produce would have been in the yard there but the guys who normally clean basically removed them from the yard,” the Love Box supervisor said.
Additionally, the programme makes use of its immediate access to avocado (zabouka) farmers to help the agricultural station at Wallilabou in its quest to propagate some 5000 avocado seedlings. Therefore the” sack loads” of ‘wasted produce’ that were shown in one of the 2 videos were really of rejected fruit that were set aside to be cultivated. Samuel further explained that these fruit are not purchased but are culled from what’s left behind by most farmers.
He also decried MP Matthews’ allegations that the Love Box distribution like the model used to purchase the produce used to stock each box is politically skewed in favor, more often than not, of Unity Labor Party supporters.
“I would not agree… the distribution of the boxes are done by churches [sic], community groups and some influential persons in a community – it might have a nurse in a particular village and that nurse would have a pretty good idea of the persons who would need a Love Box and could request boxes. I don’t believe that these individuals would think – basically pinpoint ULP only, you know?” Samuel posited while explaining that each person who makes a request for boxes to be distributed must do so by submitting the names of the persons who “they want to give to.”
This helps the coordinator to avoid situations where the same persons/households are given the boxes on multiple occasions.
“The programme was not designed for red or designed only for yellow or designed only for green or for whatever colour. The programme was designed to touch the lives of persons who would be vulnerable and I’m making sure of that.
And also to touch the farmers in North Leeward as well; you have to realize that the farmers are very happy and persons are happy on the receiving end so this whole talk of only one colour getting boxes – I have a lot of trust for the persons who do the delivery. I trust that a church would look at the entire community … I don’t think they would refuse to give anybody who’s labour or NDP a box.”
As for buying only from ULP farmers who don’t always offer market ready harvests, Samuel said, “point blank that is not the case.”
And to persons who also allege that the Rose Bank centre, in particular, engages in buying stolen produce, the Love Box supervisor again noted, “we ask for a farmers ID, national ID, a contact number is taken from every farmer and a worker from [the] Extension [department] in the Ministry of Agriculture is there as well to advise.
So what a farmer brings is recorded to his or her name with all the relevant information.”