By Shemuel FanfairHead of the Guyana Rice Millers Association (GRMA) Leekha Rambrich is accusing the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) of violating laws that govern the sector, with particular focus on its delayed payments to millers under the Panama rice deal. To date, many farmers from Wakenaam, Essequibo Islands and other producers say their livelihood is stalled as millers are not forthcoming with payments.Agriculture Minister Noel HolderMillers are contending that the GRDB is not paying them for the rice obtained since the last crop in 2017. However, Government has sought to absolve itself from the issue with the Department of Public Information (DPI) recently reporting that Government was not responsible for farmers being owed for rice shipped to Panama as it was buyers in that country, which owe for rice shipped there. In fact, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said last week that “millers should desist from using the farmers as a bank.”However, speaking with Guyana Times on Sunday, GRMA head Rambrich posited that the GRDB, which is supposed to upkeep the relevant stipulations is in fact, “breaking the law”. He explained that with the signing of the Panama contract, the GRDB “is committing itself to a six-month payment plan” whereby rice would be obtained, and payments would come six months after. This arrangement, the official contends, would be tantalum to withholding payments from farmers for more than 42 days which is a violation of the Rice Factories (Amendment) Act of 2009.“Where will millers get money to pay the farmers from; why is it the Minister doesn’t let the GRDB pay the millers, so they could pay the farmers. GRDB is the exporter and they are buying the rice from millers and they are setting precedent and breaking the law; you cannot sign agreements to pay millers after six months; the Minister is contradicting himself,” Rambrich stressed on Sunday.The law stipulates that farmers need not wait longer than the mandatory 42 days before being paid for their paddy.According to the Act, the manufacturer (miller) is required to pay the paddy producer (farmer) half the amount due that farmer within two weeks of receiving that farmer’s paddy and the remainder of the liability must be liquidated within 42 days of the parties signing the agreement of sale for the paddy.He reiterated that the GRMA’s position that millers are signing agreements with GRDB which has a Government to Government arrangement with Panama. As such, Rambrich says that GRDB has an obligation to pay millers.“How can the Board, which is supposed to police the Act, buy rice from the millers and sign contracts for six months?” he queried. The representative further related that millers are hesitant to sell their produce in Panama and are opting for markets in Mexico and Cuba to sell to Panama.Meanwhile, millers have also been observing Minister Holder’s remarks on the industry. Guyana Times was told that many millers are currently operating in overdraft. Information disclosed that banks requested a payment schedule in which millers outlined how they would pay back the funds. Reports are that GRDB promised to pay millers since September last year but revised the payment deadline to April 30, 2018.“Since September last year they promised to pay us and they keep telling us that we would get paid by the end of April… it’s not that millers are using farmers as bank. Most millers have been asking GRDB when they will get their money; we are close to end of June and nothing as yet,” a miller disclosed on Saturday.An industry insider told this newspaper that the GRDB has been in discussions with Minister Holder for him to release funds to pay the millers, as the GRDB reportedly has reserves in its coffers. It was disclosed that the GRDB has been disbursing small percentages of the payments over the last two weeks to millers. This followed recent reports carried in this newspaper.GRDB General Manager Nizam Hassan told DPI last week that “the Board is not in possession of the funds and is currently working with officials in Panama to ensure that the outstanding balance will be made available for payment at the earliest possible time.” The General Manager further told Government’s official media outlet that millers are aware that when they supply the Panamanian market, they will receive payments from the GRDB when it is received from Panama. He admitted that millers are owed for the two-contracted supply – the last contract for 2017 and the first contract for 2018 and not for contracts for any previous years.